Senators Promise to Pursue 'Dramatic Sanctions' Against Iran
More than two-thirds of the Senate and nearly 400 House members on Tuesday promised to pursue "dramatic sanctions" against Iran if it moves ahead with its nuclear ambitions.
The Hill reported that 83 senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama in which they urged him to ensure that Iran is warned that if it continues its nuclear program, the United States will slap more sanctions on it.
“We must signal unequivocally to Iran that rejecting negotiations and continuing its nuclear weapon program will lead to much more dramatic sanctions, including further limitations on Iran’s exports of crude oil and petroleum products,” the letter says, according to The Hill.
Several hours later, a letter to Obama signed by 394 House members was released that said Congress was ready to "act swiftly to consider additional sanctions and steps necessary to change Iran's calculation" if negotiations falter or Iran violates the interim nuclear deal reached last year.
The unified push from both chambers of Congress came as world powers, including the United States, gathered in Vienna, Austria, to try and hammer out the details of a final agreement with Iran.
An interim six-month deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities took effect in January, and was intended to buy time for more negotiations.
The senators said any final agreement should state that Iran has no inherent right to nuclear enrichment while requiring the country to dismantle its nuclear program, give up its heavy water reactor and submit to a long-term system of inspections, among other principles.
The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
Menendez is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He and Kirk authored legislation last year that would impose tougher sanctions against Iran.
The Hill reported that of the 17 senators who did not sign Tuesday’s letter, eight were Democratic committee chairmen who wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in December urging him to hold off a vote on new Iran sanctions.
Reid, who stood by the White House in opting not to allow a vote on the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill, also did not sign Tuesday’s letter to Obama.
Other notable names missing from Tuesday’s letter were Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (Mich.), Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (S.D.).
Feinstein triggered controversy in January when she gave a fiery floor speech against the sanctions bill, during which she declared that "we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war."
“For diplomacy to succeed, however, we must couple our willingness to negotiate with a united and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime,” the senators warned in the letter.
The House letter was led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The House letter also laid out conditions for the final deal similar to those outlined by the upper chamber.
If a final deal is reached by July, the lawmakers say Obama administration officials must work with Congress to enact legislation that would provide “longer term sanctions relief” in case Iran reneges on a final agreement’s terms.
“Should negotiations fail or Iran violate the Joint Plan of Action, Congress will need to ensure that the legislative authority exists to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions,” the senators wrote. “We need to work together now to prepare for either eventuality.”