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A bipartisan group of 63 House lawmakers are calling on the Senate to “act swiftly” in the passage of a new round of Iran sanctions that have been heavily opposed by the White House.
The letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), maintains that despite ongoing negotiations with the West, “the objective of the Iranian regime remains the same: the pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” according to a copy of the letter and list of co-signers obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Only the passage of a new round of sanctions will convince Iran to end its nuclear activities, according to the letter, which was spearheaded by Reps. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.), Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), Grace Meng (D., N.Y.), and Michael McCaul (R., Texas).
The letter comes just days after the Obama administration launched a full-court press to convince its Democratic allies to block a new Iran sanctions bill currently waiting Senate approval.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has repeatedly said in press briefings that those who support new sanctions are leading the United States into a war with Iran.
However, a majority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have balked, insisting that the White House is pursuing a misguided policy.
“We must make it crystal clear to Iran that even tougher sanctions are coming down the pike,” Rep. Eliott Engel (D., N.Y.) said during a Wednesday hearing on Iran.
“I hope the administration understands that we cannot take their concerns fully into account … if they do not do a better job of keeping Congress informed and taking into account what congress thinks,” Engel said.
House lawmakers who signed onto the new letter maintain that the administration has been drawn into endless talks aimed at giving Iran more time to build a nuclear weapon.
“While recent assessments of the progress of Iran’s nuclear program vary—with some estimating that Iran is weeks away from producing weapons-grade uranium—what is clear is that time is running short,” the lawmakers wrote. “Protracted negotiations may give Iran more time to spin its centrifuges, while the threat of enhanced sanctions holds the promise of compelling Iran to give up its ambitions.”
Roskam warned that negotiations with the Iranians could end up like failed talks with North Korea.
“It’s time for the Senate to act and pass this vital Iran sanctions package,” Roskam told the Free Beacon. “We’ve seen this story before when, under a decade ago, insufficient pressure and failed diplomacy allowed North Korea to become a nuclear power.”
“I’m disappointed that the Obama administration refuses to acknowledge the lessons of history by unilaterally standing down against the Iranian regime,” Roskam said. “We must instead intensify pressure until Iran agrees to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Pressure brought Iran to the negotiating table, and continued strong pressure is critical to convince Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
Reports indicate that the United States was willing to provide Iran with sanctions relief under a draft agreement formed last week during nuclear negotiations in Geneva.
“While we support diplomatic efforts toward an Iran free of nuclear weapons and free of nuclear weapons breakout capability, the sanctions pressure must be maintained,” the lawmakers wrote. “Every day, existing sanctions may be weakened as Iran finds loopholes and business partners willing to evade existing sanctions.”
The letter has garnered support from a wide array of lawmakers, including Reps. Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R., Fla.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East; Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who rarely lends his name to such letters; and Peter King (R., N.Y.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Democrats include Reps. Juan Vargas (Calif.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Brian Higgins (N.Y.), and Mike Michaud (Maine), among others.
Former U.S. officials and those on Capitol Hill slammed the White House for dubbing sanctions supporters warmongers and for telling senators in a closed-door briefing to ignore Israeli warnings about Iran.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) called the White House’s rhetoric “offensive”
“We find it offensive — at least I do — to be told that introducing new sanctions that can be waived is an act of war,” Graham was quoted as saying on Thursday.
“Neville Chamberlain would be proud of Mr. Carney,” said John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “This shows why the sanctions strategy, which will not stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program under the best of circumstances, can be twisted by the Obama administration.”
Sources in the House and Senate who are working on the sanctions legislation also took exception to the White House’s push to stymie their efforts.
“This White House’s lobbying push against further Iran sanctions consists of a preposterous empty threat that pressure in the midst of negotiations will yield war,” said one senior GOP House aide. “On the contrary, additional sanctions are essential to persuade Iran that its nuclear program is no longer worth pursuing.”
“As this letter proves, even House Democrats are fed up with the administration’s weak approach on Iran,” the aide said.
Many in Congress have been airing their frustration with the White House behind closed doors, according to a senior Senate aide involved in the issue.
“Congressmen, senators, democratic allies—they’re all screaming in unison, ‘Stop, stop, stop, what are you doing?’” the source said. “And the president doesn’t seem to care. The American people have to wonder why he wants Iran to keep its nuclear program so badly.”