(WASHINGTON) -- The White House pushed back a bit Wednesday from comments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the effectiveness of economic sanctions on Iran to stop it from developing nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu maintains that the penalties imposed on Iran by the U.S. and the international community have not slowed down its nuclear program "one iota."
With Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Israel for talks, the prime minister said Wednesday that while the sanctions have affected Iran's economy, "it is also true that neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet had any impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program."
Asked about the statements at his daily press briefly, press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that Netanyahu was correct in saying that Iran has not made the choice "to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions."
However, Carney repeated President Obama's contention that targeting Tehran's finances and oil industry has had "a significant effect on the Iranian economy," which the White House hopes will convince Iran that it must reconsider moving ahead with its nuclear agenda.
On Wednesday night, both the House and Senate approved new sanctions against Iran, targeting the country’s oil exports through banking and insurance.
"This legislation expands our existing sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, and imposes new sanctions targeting shipping and insurance. Iran continues to try to evade existing sanctions. But this legislation, in combination with newly announced measures by the Obama administration, closes loopholes and stops the use of front companies, or financial institutions to get around international sanctions," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement after the vote.
Earlier in the day, Panetta sought to ease tensions between the U.S. and Israel by issuing a stern warning to Iran, telling reporters in Jerusalem that Iran "can either negotiate in a way that tries to resolve these issues and has them abiding by international rules and requirements and giving up their effort to develop their nuclear capability. But if they don't, and if they continue to make the decision to proceed with a nuclear weapon...we have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that does not happen."
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