Iran Nuclear NewsSenate urges Barack Obama to step up Iran sanctions

Senate urges Barack Obama to step up Iran sanctions

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The Telegraph: America must step up sanctions and bring “a renewed sense of urgency” to halting Iran’s nuclear programme even as it hopes the inauguration of a new president in Tehran will lead to détente, the US Senate will say next week.

The Telegraph

America must step up sanctions and bring “a renewed sense of urgency” to halting Iran’s nuclear programme even as it hopes the inauguration of a new president in Tehran will lead to détente, the US Senate will say next week.

In a letter obtained by The Daily Telegraph, 76 senators from both parties urge the White House to offer Iran no quarter despite the softer rhetoric of the newly sworn in President Hassan Rouhani.

“Until we see a significant slowdown of Iran’s nuclear activities, we believe our nation must toughen sanctions and reinforce the credibility of our option to use military force at the same time as we fully explore a diplomatic solution to our dispute with Iran,” the senators write.

The Obama administration has taken a wait-and-see approach to Mr Rouhani, who won a surprise election victory after promising to end years of economic turmoil caused by Western sanctions.

Congress, however, is moving ahead with an aggressive new round of sanctions.

The House of Representatives voted this week 400-20 for measures designed to put pressure on the few remaining buyers of Iranian oil and to choke off Tehran’s access to its dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

The Senate is expected to pass its own bill in September ahead of the next expected round of diplomatic negotiations between Iran and the six-nation bloc of the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

In the letter to President Barack Obama, the senators note that Mr Rouhani has “pledged re-engagement” with the international community but warn “Iran has used negotiations in the past to stall for time”.

“We urge you to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process,” the senators write to Mr Obama. “We need to understand quickly whether Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously.”

A senior Senate aide said that the letter, which was spearheaded by Senators Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham, was intended to temper the optimism of some US officials that Mr Rouhani’s inauguration would lead to a diplomatic breakthrough.

“Soft noises of Tehran changing its tune is one thing; a concrete action of stepping back from the nuclear precipice is a much different thing,” he said.

Both Iranian and Western negotiators are focused on two competing timelines.

The first is how long until Iran reaches a “critical nuclear capability”, the capacity to produce weapons grade uranium so quickly it would be undetectable to western intelligence.

The second is how long Iran’s economy can withstand the severe sanctions regime and especially the stranglehold it places on access to foreign currency reserves needed to prop up the Iranian rial.

“The central question is which comes first: Iran reaching economic collapse or Iran reaching critical nuclear capability?” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

“The single most important piece of intelligence for the US may not be about Iranian nuclear physics – it may have more to do with Iranian economics.”

Analysts and Western intelligence are constantly working to produce estimates of both timelines.

A major report by the Institute for Science and International Security this month suggested that Iran’s nuclear programme is likely to reach a critical stage by June 2014.

Its economic situation is difficult to assess but under the current sanctions regime, Iran is widely believed to have at least a few years of foreign currency reserves left.

US lawmakers hope that by stepping up current sanctions they can increase economic pressure and reduce the amount of time Iran has left to negotiate.

“There is a broad consensus that to get a negotiated deal with the Iranians, massively intensified sanctions are needed to accelerate the date at which their economy goes over the cliff,” said Mr Dubowitz.

The small group of representatives who opposed the House sanctions bill this week argued that the US should use Mr Rouhani’s inauguration as a chance to reset the relationship with Iran.

“Why aren’t we at least curious to find out whether or not President Rouhani means that he wants to pursue this course of peace?” said Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat.

Some analysts have suggested, however, that the threat of new sanctions could strengthen Mr Rouhani’s hand if he intends to try to convince Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to negotiate.

 

Full text: Senators’ letter to Barack Obama on Iran sanctions

Dear Mr President:

With the election of Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian people signaled their clear dissatisfaction with Iran’s government and its policies. We hope such a surprising and convincing electoral outcome will persuade Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to abandon Iran’s nuclear weapons quest. But until we see a significant slowdown of Iran’s nuclear activities, we believe our nation must toughen sanctions and reinforce the credibility of our option to use military force at the same time as we fully explore a diplomatic solution to our dispute with Iran.

We deeply sympathize with the plight of the Iranian people, who have suffered under the Khamenei regime. We note that President-elect Rouhani has pledged re-engagement with the P5+1 and promised to bring transparency to Iran’s nuclear program. At the same time, Iran has used negotiations in the past to stall for time, and in any event, Khamenei is the ultimate decision-maker for Iran’s nuclear program. Moreover, Iran today continues its large-scale installation of advanced centrifuges. This will soon put it in the position to be able to rapidly produce weapons-grade uranium, bringing Tehran to the brink of a nuclear weapons capability.

 

Accordingly, Mr. President, we urge you to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process. We need to understand quickly whether Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously. Iran needs to understand that the time for diplomacy is nearing its end. We implore you to demand immediate serious moves on Iran’s part. Iran should move quickly toward compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend enrichment. Iran must cease installing centrifuges, agree to the removal of 20 percent enriched uranium from Iran, and cease work on the heavy water reactor being built in Arak.

We believe there are four strategic elements necessary to achieve resolution of this issue: an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations, the maintenance and toughening of sanctions, and a convincing threat of the use of force that Iran will believe. We must be prepared to act, and Iran must see that we are prepared.

Mr. President, we share your conviction that Iran must not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. We want you to know that you will have our support in doing all you can to resolve on an urgent basis this most pressing challenge to international security.

Sincerely,

Senator Robert Menendez

Senator Lindsey Graham

Senator Robert P. Casey Jr.

Senator Roy Blunt

Senator Tim Kaine

Senator Kelly Ayotte

List of Cosigners (76)

1. Graham

2. Menendez

3. Ayotte

4. Blunt

5. Kaine

6. Casey

7. Boozman

8. Crapo

9. Flake

10. Ron Johnson

11. Burr

12. Manchin

13. Roberts

14. Grassley

15. Moran

16. Cornyn

17. Inhofe

18. Hoeven

19. Isakson

20. Begich

21. Coons

22. Cardin

23. Hatch

24. Wicker

25. Murray

26. Hagan

27. Mikulski

28. Fischer

29. Lee

30. Thune

31. Risch

32. Collins

33. Portman

34. Schatz

35. Stabenow

36. Cruz

37. Rubio

38. Schumer

39. Markey

40. Donnelly

41. Nelson

42. Heller

43. Pryor

44. Coats

45. Gillibrand

46. Bennet

47. Vitter

48. Chambliss

49. Enzi

50. McCaskill

51. Barrasso

52. Toomey

53. McConnell

54. Brown

55. Warner

56. Reed

57. Blumenthal

58. Hirono

59. Cochran

60. Shaheen

61. Whitehouse

62. Scott

63. King

64. Cantwell

65. Merkley

66. Klobuchar

67. Johanns

68. Franken

69. Sessions

70. Landrieu

71. Alexander

72. McCain

73. Chiesa

74. Heitkamp

75. Murphy

76. Warren

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