Hundreds of lawmakers urge Obama to take 'punishing measures' against Iran

Congressional proponents of swift, tougher sanctions on Iran have finished gathering signatures on letters to President Barack Obama.

The letter recently recirculated by Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) is being submitted to Obama with 363 House members' signatures.

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"Mr. President, you have stated this issue is a priority for your administration. You have attempted to engage the Iranian regime for over a year. You have gone to the United Nations Security Council in an effort to impose tough new sanctions on Iran. But time is not on our side," the letter states.

"We cannot allow those who would oppose or delay sanctions to govern either the timing or content of our efforts," it says, in reference to the lack of support at the Security Council by veto-wielders China and Russia.

The letter calls on Obama to "fulfill your June 2008 pledge that you would do 'everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,'" to "rapidly" implement the sanctions legislation when it comes out of conference and use whatever presidential powers at his means to impose "punishing measures" on Tehran.

Jackson and Pence, along with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), as well as Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.), confirmed the culmination of their effort at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

"This is a moment where traditional loyalties and interests give way to the interests of the United States of America," said Pence, who characterized the letter to Obama as "firm but respectful."

"We are assuring the president of strong bipartisan support for tough and decisive measures," Pence said. "We urge the president to move rapidly."

"It has been the consistent policy of this administration and a consistent policy of this Congress that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable," Hoyer said. "We need to act. We need to act now, and we must act decisively."

In the Senate, a similar letter circulated by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has gathered 76 signatures and was expected to be sent to Obama as early as Wednesday afternoon.

"Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons remains a diplomatic imperative," the letter states. "But time is not on the side of those who seek to prevent a nuclear Iran.

"... We urge you to move quickly to implement your existing authority on Iran and the legislation we send you, and to galvanize the international community to take immediate, substantive steps. Now is the time for action focused on preventing a nuclear Iran. We look forward to working with you on this important task."

In December, the House approved 412-12 a measure enabling Obama to ban foreign firms that supply Iran with refined petroleum from doing business in the U.S. The Senate passed its own version of sanctions targeting Iran's energy sector by voice vote on Jan. 28.

"I don't think there is any other bill that is as important insofar as furthering U.S. national security interests as this bill," Cantor said at the Wednesday press conference.

Cantor acknowledged Obama's attempts to gain international consensus on resolutions at the United Nations, but noted that Congress was on "a separate track"

"It is of the utmost importance that this Congress act now and act decisively," Cantor said. "There will be some teeth in these sanctions if all goes as planned."

Cantor said he expected an announcement on a congressional schedule for action on sanctions on those doing business with Iran in the next couple of days.

This story was updated at 8:55 p.m.