A letter urging the Senate to pass further sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program failed to receive half as many supporters as a letter earlier this year calling on the Obama administration to increase diplomatic overtures towards Tehran.
House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) spearheaded the more recent letter, which urges the Senate’s leaders to take up a package of new sanctions against Iran that passed the House earlier this year. “The possibility of tighter sanctions will enhance our leverage in the nuclear standoff between the Iran’s Supreme Leader and the international community,” the letter argues. “We should ensure that tougher penalties will be available should Tehran be found to be using the negotiations as a stalling tactic.”
McCaul’s letter is heralded as bipartisan on the site of Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), with 53 Republicans and 10 Democrats having signed onto the document. However, the letter’s 63 signatories don’t match up with a message to President Obama earlier this year pressing for an increase in diplomacy with Iran while warning of taking actions that might throw any talks off. That effort bore the signatures of 128 members of the body, more than a quarter of the House’s total membership, including 16 Republicans.
Reps. Charles Dent (R-PA) and David Price (D-NC) sponsored the letter in July, shortly before Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was inaugurated, urging Obama “to pursue the potential opportunity presented” by “reinvigorating U.S. efforts to secure a negotiated nuclear agreement.” “We must also be careful not to preempt this potential opportunity by engaging in actions that delegitimize the newly elected president and weaken his standing relative to hardliners within the regime who oppose his professed ‘policy of reconciliation and peace,’” the letter cautioned.
The more recent letter also appears to have been written prior to the latest International Atomic Energy Association report on Iran’s program becoming public. “While recent assessments of the progress of Iran’s nuclear program vary … what is clear is that time is running short,” the letter says. In contrast, the IAEA said in their November quarterly report that since Rouhani took office, progress on Iran’s nuclear efforts has come to a virtual stand-still.
Members of the P5+1 group — composed of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China — are currently preparing for the next round of negotiations with Iran in Geneva on Nov. 20. Senate members are slowly beginning to come out against new sanctions while the talks are ongoing, even as Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) mulls bringing the House’s legislation up before his Senate Banking Committee. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, on Friday became the latest senator to do so.
“The purpose of sanctions was to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they have succeeded in doing so,” Feinstein wrote in a statement. “Tacking new sanctions onto the defense authorization bill or any other legislation would not lead to a better deal. It would lead to no deal at all.”
The White House has been pressing the Senate to hold off on new sanctions while the negotiations continue, ramping up their rhetoric over the course of the week. On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney warned that new legislation could put America on the “march to war.” Speaking at a press appearance on Thursday, President Obama likewise made clear that he believes there’s “no need” for new sanctions at this time.