Eighty-three senators banded together today to demand that President Obama meet core principles, including clear consequences, in any final nuclear agreement with Iran.
The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
The sheer number of senators on board serves as a warning call to the administration that they have the support to override a presidential veto on tougher Iran sanctions.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who held up a sanctions vote at the request of the White House, was not among the signatories.
“For twenty years, Congress has consistently focused attention on the threat of the Iranian program and taken the lead in initiating sanctions. Congress has repeatedly stated that preventing an Iranian nuclear capability is a key goal of U.S. foreign policy. Nine separate pieces of sanctions legislation have passed Congress since 1996. We appreciate your continued commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and your efforts to implement the sanctions, which isolated and pressured the regime into negotiations,” states the letter.
“We believe that Congress has a continuing role to play to improve the prospects for success in the talks with Iran. 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.”
They requested that the administration insist on these “core principles” in a final Iran deal:
— We believe that Iran has no inherent right to enrichment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
— We believe any agreement must dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program and prevent it from ever having a uranium or plutonium path to a nuclear bomb.
— We believe Iran has no reason to have an enrichment facility like Fordow, that the regime must give up its heavy water reactor at Arak, and that it must fully explain the questionable activities in which it engaged at Parchin and other facilities.
— We believe Iran must fully resolve concerns addressed in United Nations Security Council resolutions, including any military dimensions of its nuclear program.
— We believe Iran must also submit to a long-term and intrusive inspection and verification regime to achieve the goal described in the Joint Plan of Action of “reaffirm[ing] that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.”– Finally, we believe Iran must not be allowed during these negotiations to circumvent sanctions. We view this period as one fraught with the danger of companies and countries looking to improve their commercial position in Tehran, especially given recent reports of rising purchases of Iranian oil. Iran cannot be allowed to be open for business. As you have stated, we must come down on those who are undermining sanctions “like a ton of bricks.”
The letter makes clear that they expect Obama to come before Congress with a final agreement, since it would roll back sanctions approved by the legislative branch.
“Should negotiations fail or Iran violate the Joint Plan of Action, Congress will need to ensure that the legislative authority exists to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions. We need to work together now to prepare for either eventuality,” they wrote.
“Most importantly, 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.”
Pro-Iran groups in Washington were already sounding the alarm about the senators’ statement. The National Iranian American Council complained last week that the letter “includes guidelines for negotiations that can easily be construed by opponents of a diplomatic solution to force the U.S. to violate the terms of the preliminary agreement.”
“NIAC urges those who signed the letter to clarify that this letter does not require zero enrichment or dismantlement of a civilian Iranian nuclear program, and that they do not support a vote on new Iran sanctions.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which recently held its annual convention and lobbying day in Washington, lauded the letter, particularly how it noted “pressure will intensify if Iran violates the interim agreement, uses the talks simply as a delaying tactic, or walks away from the table.”
“The letter outlines core principles that should be realized in a final agreement including that Iran has no inherent right to enrichment and that Iran must dismantle its nuclear weapons program such that it is prevented from ever having a uranium or plutonium path to a nuclear bomb,” AIPAC said in a statement. “The letter also stresses the essential role of Congress, particularly if an acceptable deal requires sanctions relief or if a breakdown in talks requires additional sanctions legislation.”
UPDATE: A similar letter was sent to Obama from the House, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and signed by 395 lawmakers.