More than a quarter of the U.S. House of Representatives has signed onto a letter to President Obama urging greater engagement with Iran over issuing further threats over the country’s nuclear program.
Due to be sent to Obama on Friday, the letter — originated by Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Charles Dent (R-PA) — at last count now bears the signature of 128 members of the body, including 16 Republicans. That number has been on the rise since the letter was first reported on Thursday, with the final signature count still to be determined.
Prompted by the recent election of Dr. Hassan Rouhani to succeed the much more volatile Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran, the letter urges Obama “to pursue the potential opportunity presented” by “reinvigorating U.S. efforts to secure a negotiated nuclear agreement.”
Clear-eyed in its assessment of Rouhani’s ability to shape policy, the letter notes the convoluted system under which the Islamic Republic operates, and warns that seemingly moderate candidates had been elected in Iran before. But it still insists that it “would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rohani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that ensures the country does not acquire a nuclear weapon.”
“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 draft letter warns.
The Congressional advice seen in the Dent-Price letter comes just days after a group of experts from the military, diplomatic, and policy spheres sent a letter of their own to the White House. “While it will take time to secure an agreement to resolve all concerns, diplomacy will only succeed if we are prepared to leverage existing sanctions and other incentives in exchange for reciprocal Iranian concessions,” it said, more directly warning against new sanctions at this time than the Dent-Price letter.
Unfortunately, the House is currently considering a series of measures that would do just the opposite, ratcheting up pressure on Iran in a way that experts have criticized as having no relief mechanism. Under the provisions the leadership of the House Foreign Relations Committee hopes to see passed in the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act (H.R. 850), Iran would feel the weight of a de facto total oil embargo against it, with no provision for the President to lift those measures in the event of successful negotiations with Iran. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) — chair and ranking member of the committee — co-authored the legislation, which is due for a vote in the full House in the coming weeks at soonest.