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Obama urges Congress to okay force against ISIS

In his State of the Union address, Obama said a U.S. led coalition of countries is stopping the advance of the group

Published: Updated:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday called on the U.S. Congress to pass a new authorization of force against the ISIS militant group and to not rush into new sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Obama said a U.S. led coalition of countries is stopping the advance of the group in Iraq and Syria. “I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL,” Obama said in the annual State of the Union address, using another acronym for the militant group.

Read also: Full text and video of Obama's State of the Union address

'From Paris to Pakistan'

He said the U.S. stands with terror victims from “Pakistan to Paris,” in the address that came came just days after attacks in Paris and weeks after attacks in Pakistan.

Lawmakers waved yellow pencils to show their support for free speech when Obama mentioned the attacks earlier this month in Paris. The 17 people killed by Islamist militant gunmen included staff at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Obama vowed: “We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks.”

But he stressed U.S. officials ”reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office, to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.”

"The United States stands side by side with the victims of terror around the world," President Barack Obama said Tuesday, as he also deplored a rise in anti-Semitism.

"Anti-Semitism... has resurfaced in certain parts of the world," he said, promising that the U.S. would respect human dignity, adding: “It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims.”

Iran sanctions

Several U.S. Senators have been pushing to pass new sanctions on Iran as talks between the Islamic Republic and six world powers over its nuclear program drag on. But any new sanctions on Iran passed by this Congress before the talks are completed "will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails," Obama said.

Talks between global powers and Iran to rein in its disputed nuclear program resumed last weekend in Geneva, with a new deadline looming at the end of June.

“Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran,” Obama told U.S. lawmakers.

Such a deal would also secure “America and our allies - including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”
The U.S. president warned “there are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed,” and vowed to “keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.”

“It doesn't make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress,” Obama said, referring to an interim accord under which Tehran has frozen its uranium enrichment in return for limited sanctions relief.

“The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom,” he added.

Guantanamo

Meanwhile he said he pledged to make good on his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying it was “time to finish the job.”

“As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice - so it makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit,” Obama said in his State of the Union address.

“Since I’ve been president, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of Guantanamo in half. Now it’s time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It’s not who we are.”

Many of the detainees are Yemenis. U.S. authorities are reluctant to send them back to their home country amid security concerns, given the ongoing unrest.

Among those not cleared for release are about 10 “high-value detainees including self-proclaimed September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants, who await a military trial.