U.S. President Barack Obama returns to the White House after spending the day in Michigan
© Larry Downing / Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama returns to the White House after spending the day in Michigan, February 7, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing
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updated 2/11/2014 2:16:59 PM ET 2014-02-11T19:16:59

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama issued a sharp warning on Tuesday to companies eyeing business deals with Iran, saying the United States would come down like a "ton of bricks" on those that violated sanctions against Tehran.

Obama, speaking at a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande, said France and other allies were committed to enforcing existing sanctions even as they worked together on a possible a diplomatic deal over Iran's nuclear program.

Last week the Obama administration targeted a host of businesses across Europe and the Middle East for evading sanctions against Iran, the second time Washington had done so since Western powers reached an interim deal with Tehran in November.

Obama cited that actions in his warning to companies around the world.

"Businesses may be exploring, 'are there some possibilities to get in sooner rather than later if and when there is an actual agreement to be had?'," Obama said.

"They do so at their own peril right now, because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks with respect to the sanctions that we control."

Hollande appeared somewhat on the defensive about the issue. Earlier this month Iran welcomed a delegation of more than 100 French executives, telling them the far-sighted among the group would gain in the race for businesses following an ease of economic sanctions.

Hollande stressed that he warned the businesses that sanctions were still in place. The companies made their travel decisions unilaterally, he said.

"If contacts were to be made with a view to a new situation in Iran, a situation where Iran would have renounced the nuclear weapon, fully and comprehensively, well unless such a new situation would prevail, no commercial agreement could be signed," Hollande said about those companies.

"That's what I told French businessmen, and they are very much aware of this situation."

Regarding another international hot spot, Obama criticized Russia for objecting to a United Nations resolution on aid to Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday a draft U.N. resolution on aid access in Syria was "detached from reality" and urged the West to refrain from what it called one-sided accusations against Damascus.

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"Secretary (of State John) Kerry and others have delivered a very direct message to the Russians that they cannot say they are concerned about the well-being of the Syrian people when there are starving civilians," Obama said.

Obama said the United States was exploring all options with regard to the situation there.

"Right now we don't think that there is a military solution per se to the problem but the situation is fluid and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue to solve this problem," Obama said.

(additional reporting by Bill Trott, Roberta Rampton, and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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