Lawmakers pressure Obama to step up efforts against Iran

The Obama administration is coming under renewed pressure from Congress to turn the screws on Iran following the failure of talks over the country's nuclear program. 

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), two of Iran's toughest critics, are calling for more sanctions after two days of talks in Moscow failed to achieve a breakthrough on Tehran's nuclear program. 

“I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by Iran’s ‘take now, pay later’ position — essentially seeking relief from sanctions in exchange for an unverifiable pledge from the Supreme Leader that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, while at the same time demanding the right to enrich uranium,” Menendez said in a statement. 

“The talks were the preferred forum to reach an agreement, but in their absence the Congress will pursue other mechanisms to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. I look forward to working with the House of Representatives to pass a bipartisan sanctions bill as soon as possible and anticipate the administration’s full implementation of the Central Bank sanctions next week.”

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The pressure comes as the House Armed Services Committee meets Wednesday to discuss military options on Iran, another sign that patience with the regime is wearing thin.

Sanctions on companies that do business with Iranian financial institutions and its central bank are slated to take effect on June 28 under legislation President Obama signed into law last year. Some lawmakers, however, are calling for tougher action even as Iran and the international community are slated to meet again for technical talks in Istanbul on July 3.

“More talks are not the answer, but only a dangerous diversion,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “Time is rapidly running out to stop the nightmare of a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran from becoming reality. The administration and other responsible nations must abandon the current ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ incremental approach and impose game-changing sanctions to compel the regime to abandon its nuclear program now.”

Ros-Lehtinen is the sponsor of tougher energy and financial sanctions on Iran that would increase the number of sanctions the administration is required to impose on Iran. The bill cleared the House 410-11 in December and the Senate by voice vote last month, but the two versions need to be reconciled before going to the president's desk.

The administration is vowing to enforce the current sanctions.

“We’re committed to ensuring that if we see violations of Iran sanctions that we will call them out and that we will seek appropriate action,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at her briefing Tuesday.