Lawmakers press for renewing talks with Iran

The two lawmakers have signed on to similar efforts in the past, with now-retired Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) as the lead Republican. Last year, 71 members signed on to a letter calling on Obama to redouble diplomatic engagement, citing signs that “Iran, under intensified pressures, has appeared willing to engage in a serious and substantive discussion on its nuclear program.”

In their op-ed for Politico, Ellison and McDermott likewise wrote that “Rouhani’s election provides a welcome opportunity to recalibrate U.S. policy toward Iran.”

“It would be a mistake to impose new sanctions on Iran before giving Rouhani the chance to put his words into action,” they wrote. “Additional sanctions now would offend the majority of voters who chose moderation over extremism and could jeopardize a crucial opening for moderate Iranian leaders.”

Critics say Iran is simply stalling for time.

The House and Senate Foreign Affairs panels are currently weighing new sanctions, in a bid to choke off Iran's access to currency sources and precipitate an economic crisis forcing the country to shut down its alleged nuclear weapons program. Iran says its program is solely for civilian purposes.

Here's the full "Dear Colleague" letter:

Dear President Obama,

As Members of Congress who share your unequivocal commitment to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, we urge you to pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran's recent presidential election by reinvigorating U.S. efforts to secure a negotiated nuclear agreement.

As you know, on June 14 the Iranian people elected Hassan Rouhani president with over 50 percent of the vote in the first round, overcoming repression and intimidation by the Iranian government to cast their ballots in favor of reform. Dr. Rouhani campaigned on the promise to “pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace” and has since promised “constructive interaction with the outside world.” As Iran’s former lead nuclear negotiator, he has also publicly expressed the view that obtaining a nuclear weapon would run counter to Iran’s strategic interests and has been critical of the nuclear “extremism” of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

We are mindful of the limitations of the Iranian presidency within the country’s political system, of the fact that previous Iranian presidents elected on platforms of moderation have failed to deliver on promised reforms, and of the mixed signals that Dr. Rouhani himself has sent regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It remains to be seen whether his election will indeed bring significant change with regard to Iran's relations with the outside world. His government’s actions will certainly speak louder than his words.

Even so, we believe it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that ensures the country does not acquire a nuclear weapon. In order to test this proposition, it will be prudent for the United States to utilize all diplomatic tools to reinvigorate ongoing nuclear talks. In addition, bilateral and multilateral sanctions must be calibrated in such a way that they induce significant and verifiable concessions from Iran at the negotiating table in exchange for their potential relaxation.

We must also be careful not to preempt this potential opportunity by engaging in actions that delegitimize the newly elected president and weaken his standing relative to hardliners within the regime who are opposed to his professed “policy of reconciliation and peace.” Likewise, it will be critical for the United States to continue its efforts to foster unprecedented international cooperation on this issue so that the international community remains united in its opposition to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We look forward to working with your administration on this important issue in the months ahead.


Rep. Charles Dent (PA)

Rep. David Price (NC)

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