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White House drops veto threat on defense bill

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:38 AM EST, Thu December 15, 2011
Senate Armed Services chief Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said Iran will
Senate Armed Services chief Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said Iran will "pay a bigger and bigger price" for seeking nuclear weapons.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: House passes measure, which now goes to the Senate
  • Changes in detainee language satisfy the president's concerns
  • The issue involved presidential authority over military or civilian custody for terrorism suspects
  • $662 billion measure includes tough sanctions against Iran over nuclear program

Washington (CNN) -- The White House lifted a veto threat against a giant $662 billion defense authorization bill on Wednesday after legislators made changes in language involving detainees.

In particular, the legislators added language to make clear that nothing in the bill requiring military custody of al Qaeda suspects would interfere with the ability of civilian law enforcement to carry out terrorism investigations and interrogations in the United States.

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A statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the changes mean that President Obama's advisers will not recommend a veto.

The House on Wednesday approved the bill, which now goes to the Senate.

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At issue was the president's authority in deciding whether people detained in terrorism investigations would be held in military or civilian custody.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the legislation includes a "national security waiver" that allows the president to transfer a suspect from military to civilian custody if he chooses.

The legislators also agreed on tough sanctions language for the Iranian Central Bank, aimed at punishing Iran for its nuclear program. The White House had expressed opposition to that provision as well, but it received broad support in Congress.

The measure "will put real additional pressure on the Iranians so they are going to pay a bigger and bigger price, if they continue to move towards nuclear weapons," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In addition, legislators agreed to tough new restrictions on Pakistan to ensure that country is not participating in the manufacture and transport of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the hidden bombs that have caused havoc for coalition forces in Afghanistan.

"We've had some shaky relations with Pakistan lately. We need them, and they need us," said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "We have frozen some of the money that we will be sending to Pakistan until they offer more assurances, more help in this area of ... fertilizer and the things that go into making IEDs."

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