Politico: Capitol Hill must have an outsize role to play in Iran no matter the result of ongoing nuclear talks, a bipartisan group of six senators say in a letter to Obama released Sunday by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
By Burgess Everett
As the world watches Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Congress wants to ensure Iran relations remain on the mind of President Barack Obama.
Capitol Hill must have an outsize role to play in Iran no matter the result of ongoing nuclear talks, a bipartisan group of six senators say in a letter to Obama released Sunday by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Congress will need “to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions” against Iran if global negotiations to scale back the country’s nuclear program fail, the senators said. And if Iran does agree to a permanent deal, the lawmakers said it will be up to them to offer long-term economic relief to Iran.
“We need to work together now to prepare for either eventuality,” the senators said. “Iran must clearly understand the consequences of failing to reach an acceptable final agreement. 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 is being led by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). Congressional sources expect more senators to join them by the time the letter arrives at the White House.
The timing of the letter and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula is coincidental to AIPAC’s annual policy summit this week, but is also not lost on Capitol Hill, given that Moscow’s ties with Iran have deepened in recent months. Also, Russia is among the global powers who would need to sign off on a permanent deal with Iran, along with the United States, China and Europe.
And as those talks continue, lawmakers will continue to nudge the Obama administration toward a hawkish stance.
“As these negotiations proceed, we will outline our views about the essential goals of a final agreement with Iran, continue oversight of the interim agreement and the existing sanctions regime, and signal the consequences that will follow if Iran rejects an agreement that brings to an end its nuclear weapons ambitions,” the senators say in the letter.
The missive’s backing by Democrats like No. 3 Senate Democrat Schumer and Foreign Relations Chairman Menendez is notable given the fresh partisan divide on Iran. This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) staved off several GOP attempts to force a vote on new sanctions, which Obama believes would ruin ongoing talks with Iran.
Republicans are hoping this week that AIPAC presses Democrats to endorse a swift vote on sanctions legislation. But there’s no sign yet of any agreement: The letter doesn’t mention a timeline for a vote.