The World from The Hill: GOP majority would increase pressure on Iran policy

Republicans see a majority in the next Congress as an opportunity to put heat on the administration to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

They'll be joined by Democrats who have been vocal this Congress about the threat, expressing fears of a nuclear Iran and reminding the White House that the clock is ticking on reining in the country’s nuclear ambitions.

ADVERTISEMENT
Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (Ga.) told The Hill that, with an expected GOP majority in the House next Congress, it will be time to pull together as a conference and get like-minded Democrats on board an effort to push even tougher sanctions against Iran.

“The question that the American people are asking is, ‘Are we in a better position vis-à-vis Iran than we were two years ago?’” Price said. “I don't think anyone can say we are.”

Price said the "conversation has to occur with the leaders on the other side as well as the president."

"Are you serious about what you say? If so, then we need to see greater action from a sanctions standpoint," Price said.

Iran has brushed off recent sanctions, boasting that the measures have not had an adverse impact on the country. Price said this reflects the perception of a lack of resolve on the part of the administration to really get tough on Iran.

A Democratic congressional aide told The Hill a bipartisan effort is definitely expected, with more members taking it upon themselves to write to individual companies and ask them to curtail or eliminate certain business dealings with Iran.

For example, a bipartisan group of legislators wrote to the chairman of Spain's largest oil company, Repsol, in July, following up on news reports that the firm was pulling out of a deal to develop a gas field in Iran. “We hope such reports are true, and we encourage you to follow through by completely, expeditiously, and verifiably ceasing to do business in and with Iran,” the letter said.

Demonstrating that the effort has been truly crossing the aisle, Republicans signing the letter were Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), who is expected to take the gavel at the Foreign Affairs Committee if Republicans regain control of the House, Thad McCotter (Mich.), Dan Burton (Ind.), Elton Gallegly (Calif.), Bob Inglis (S.C.), Ed Royce (Calif.). Don Manzullo (Ill.), and Jeff Fortenberry (La.). Democrats were House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Chairman Brad Sherman (Calif.), Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), Eliot Engel (N.Y.), Ted Deutch (Fla.), Ron Klein (Fla.), Joe Baca (Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (Va.).

Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman were behind much of the legislation dealing with Iran this Congress, again attracting bipartisan co-sponsors.

And in an unusual pairing last spring, Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) led a letter to Obama -- with 363 House signatures -- urging the president to take “punishing measures” against Iran and to "fulfill your June 2008 pledge that you would do 'everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.'"

The aide said that among Democrats there is “a group of members who are willing to do more and push the administration to do more.”

Price has “no doubt” that the GOP will be allying with a number of Democrats on Iran, which he called “front and center” on the party’s national security agenda as outlined in the “Pledge to America.”

Iran began loading fuel into its Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor on Tuesday. The Islamic Republic has long claimed that its nuclear ambitions are confined to energy purposes, but is under a watchful and worried world eye that doubts the intentions of the saber-rattling regime are peaceful.

On Friday, Iran said it would be ready for nuclear talks after Nov. 10 with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S. But like clockwork, Tehran retreated on this Sunday when an aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would sit down and talk with the P5+1 -- except the nuclear issue would not be up for discussion.

On state-run TV Saturday night, Ahmadinejad reiterated that the West has "no option but negotiating with Iran," but said they should only come to the table as friends of the Islamic Republic. "(We ask) on the basis of what framework are you going to negotiate? Is it based on justice and respect? But they do not dare announce it yet," Ahmadinejad said.

Price said he’s "not certain what tea leaves the administration is reading" that leads the White House to believe that more attempts at negotiations will bear fruit.

“We don't have to see the moves of the chess pieces,” he said of the closed-door diplomatic overtures in Obama’s term. "We do have to see that we're being victorious in the policy. ... The results so far have been ineffective.”

Many lawmakers see Iran's hot-and-cold approach to talks as buying time to continue its nuclear ambitions unabated. In addition, the rhetoric coming out Tehran is largely unchanged in the past two years, with Ahmadinejad even recently launching his sharpest attacks yet against Washington.

“They have such nerve to threaten us and say all options are on the table. May the undertaker bury you, your table and your body, which has soiled the world," Ahmadinejad said earlier this month. Shortly before, Obama had called Ahmadinejad’s 9/11 conspiracy theories at the United Nations “inexcusable,” “offensive” and “hateful.”

And though jobs and the economy will be foremost on voters' minds Tuesday, "and rightly so," Price said national security and Iran rank high when voters "drill down to the next level of issues."

"Without a doubt, the American people are very, very concerned about what they see as a lack of resolve on the part of the administration," he said.