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 MenendezConfirm Julien Neals for the district of New Jersey Puerto Rico task force asks for help in charting island's economic course Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense MORE (D-N.J.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamClinton, Trump sharpen attacks Graham: Let special prosecutor probe Clinton emails The Trail 2016: Clinton’s ups and downs MORE (R-S.C.), Mark KirkMark KirkWhite House dismisses GOP senator's likening of Obama to 'drug dealer in chief' The Trail 2016: Focus on the Foundation White House: 0M Iran payment wasn’t ransom MORE (R-Ill.), Chris CoonsChris CoonsDEA decision against reclassifying marijuana ignores public opinion Dems ask Cruz to hold hearing on Trump's Russian hacking remarks Top Dem: ‘I don't believe for a minute’ Trump was joking about Russia MORE (D-Del.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteSanders to campaign for Clinton on Labor Day Republicans slam Biden remarks on closing Gitmo GOP: Ship harassment shows US-Iran relations aren't warming 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 ReidDems' Florida Senate primary nears its bitter end Trump haunts McCain's reelection fight 10 most expensive House races 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 LevinSenate continues to disrespect Constitution, Obama and Supreme Court by not voting on Garland As other regulators move past implementing Dodd-Frank, the SEC falls further behind Will partisan politics infect the Supreme Court? MORE (Mich.), Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinCelebrating the contributions of the National Park Service at its centennial France, Germany push for encryption limits Lochte apologizes for behavior in Rio MORE (Calif.) and Banking Committee Chairman Tim JohnsonTim JohnsonFormer GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting Housing groups argue Freddie Mac's loss should spur finance reform On Wall Street, Dem shake-up puts party at crossroads 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 CantorThe Trail 2016: On the fringe Cantor 'pleased' Trump is embracing Jeb Bush's immigration plan Trump’s Breitbart hire sends tremors through Capitol Hill 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.