By Rebecca Shabad - 03/18/14 01:37 PM EDT
More than two-thirds of the Senate and nearly 400 House members on Tuesday promised to pursue "dramatic sanctions" against Iran if it continues its nuclear program.
In a letter sent to President Obama, 83 senators — well above the two-thirds required to override a presidential veto — warned there would be serious consequences for Iran if it fails to reach a nuclear agreement with the United States.
Several hours later, a letter to Obama signed by 394 House members was released that said Congress was ready to "act swiftly to consider additional sanctions and steps necessary to change Iran's calculation" if negotiations falter or Iran violates the interim nuclear deal reached last year.
The unified push from both chambers of Congress came as world powers, including the United States, gathered in Vienna, Austria, to try and hammer out the details of a final agreement with Iran.
An interim six-month deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities took effect in January, and was intended to buy time for more negotiations.
The senators said any final agreement should state that Iran has no inherent right to nuclear enrichment while requiring the country to dismantle its nuclear program, give up its heavy water reactor and submit to a long-term system of inspections, among other principles.
“We believe that Iran has no inherent right to enrichment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” the first principle said.
A requirement of zero enrichment, however, was not included in the Senate letter. Obama administration officials have acknowledged that Iran would be unlikely to agree to that standard, because some enrichment is required for nuclear power.
The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezDem senator: Louisiana Republican 'found Jesus' on flood funding Taiwan and ICAO: this is the time Rubio warns of terror attack from Cuba flights MORE (D-N.J.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamCornyn: White House 'MIA' during 9/11 debate Kerry threatens to end Syria talks with Russia Obama nominates ambassador to Cuba MORE (R-S.C.), Mark KirkMark KirkSenate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence Iran president hints at future prisoner swaps, cash settlements with US MORE (R-Ill.), Chris CoonsChris CoonsOvernight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare Cruz fights domain name handover in hearing MORE (D-Del.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteRyan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate Dems gain upper hand on budget GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (R-N.H.).
Menendez is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He and Kirk authored legislation last year that would impose tougher sanctions against Iran.
Of the 17 senators who did not sign Tuesday’s letter, eight were Democratic committee chairmen who wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidCongress votes to override Obama for first time Cornyn: White House 'MIA' during 9/11 debate White House lashes out at 'embarrassing' Senate veto override MORE (D-Nev.) in December urging him to hold off a vote on new Iran sanctions.
Reid, who stood by the White House in opting not to allow a vote on the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill, also did not sign Tuesday’s letter to Obama.
Other notable names missing from Tuesday’s letter were Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinThe Fed and a return to banking simplicity What Our presidential candidates can learn from Elmo Zumwalt Will there be a 50-50 Senate next year? MORE (Mich.), Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinWH tried to stop Intel Dems' statement on Russian hacking: report This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Election hacks, Yahoo breach in the spotlight MORE (Calif.) and Banking Committee Chairman Tim JohnsonTim JohnsonBank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit Former GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting Housing groups argue Freddie Mac's loss should spur finance reform MORE (S.D.).
Calls for bringing an Iran bill to the floor have died down, with lawmakers abiding by the White House's request for time.
“For diplomacy to succeed, however, we must couple our willingness to negotiate with a united and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime,” the senators warned in the letter.
The House letter was led by Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorRyan seeks to avoid Boehner fate on omnibus GOPers fear trillion-dollar vote is inevitable Insiders dominate year of the outsider MORE (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The House letter also laid out conditions for the final deal similar to those outlined by the upper chamber.
If a final deal is reached by July, the lawmakers say Obama administration officials must work with Congress to enact legislation that would provide “longer term sanctions relief” in case Iran reneges on a final agreement’s terms.
“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,” the senators wrote. “We need to work together now to prepare for either eventuality.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said this week he expects the current round of talks to be more complicated as diplomatic negotiators iron out details about Iran’s heavy-water reactor and levels of uranium enrichment, Reuters reported.
Obama has said the probability of a final deal being reached is 50-50.
— Jeremy Herb contributed.
This post was updated at 6:06 p.m.