A group of Republican Senators led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) called on President Barack Obama to increase pressure on the Iranian government on Tuesday following news reports that Obama has been privately reaching out to Iranian President Hassan Rowhani through diplomatic channels.
The senators wrote in a letter to Obama that they were skeptical that Rowhani would bring real reform to Iran, noting the Iranian government’s continued nuclear efforts, human rights abuses, and support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
The senators who signed onto the letter all voted against a recent authorization for the use of military force on Syria, but said they would take a different position on Iran.
"We are writing to make clear that although those of us on this letter were unable to support your request for congressional authorization to use military force in Syria because of our concerns about the underlying strategy, we all agree that Iran should not perceive any weakness as a result of our differences over Syria policy," the senators wrote.
"We are thus troubled by reports that you might be considering offering a new proposal that would leave the door open to a nuclear Iran, perhaps allowing Iran to preserve part of its nuclear weapons program," they wrote.
Obama and Rowhani have been corresponding by mail, and there is speculation they might meet while the Iranian president is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly this week.
The group of Republican senators said Iran is using delaying tactics so it can continue to pursue its nuclear efforts.
"Now is the time to increase pressure on Iran and to stand with the Iranian people, not pursue diplomatic half-measures that will allow their rulers to continue to delay and obfuscate and avoid real reforms," they wrote. "We look forward to working with you on this vital issue to U.S. national security."
The letter was also signed by Sens. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), John Hoeven (R., N.D.), James Risch (R., Idaho), David Vitter (R., La.), Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), John Boozman (R., Ark.), Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Dan Coats (R., Ind.) and John Barrasso (R., Wyo.).
Obama defended his diplomatic efforts during a speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday and said he would send Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a negotiated resolution.
The president also said that "the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rowhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon."
"These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful."