Middle East/North Africa

Sen. Mark Kirk breaks with Obama over outreach to Iran’s new president

One of the Senate’s toughest Iran critics warned Tuesday against lifting the pressure on the regime following this weekend’s election of a relative moderate as president.

The remarks from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) come as President Obama in an interview Monday night welcomed Hassan Rouhani’s election as a sign that voters in Iran have “rebuffed the hardliners and the clerics.” Obama went on to tell PBS’s Charlie Rose that “the Iranian people want to move in a different direction” and that he was open to relaunching talks with the country.

Kirk took to Twitter soon after to denounce Rouhani as a candidate “hand picked by the Supreme Leader & Guardian Council.”

“His [record] of deception on the nuclear program is clear,” Kirk tweeted. “With time running out, the Senate should move forward with toughest sanctions possible – rope-a-dope talks not an option.”

{mosads}Kirk is the co-author with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) of legislation to restrict Iran’s access to foreign reserves in order to bleed the country dry and trigger a hyperinflation crisis that could change the country’s calculus on its nuclear program. He tweeted a linked to a May 2006 brief from Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies that paints Rouhani as a less confrontational figure than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who nevertheless shares the same goal of equipping Iran with a nuclear weapon.

Obama made it clear in his interview that he remains committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran says its research is for peaceful purposes.

“Mr. Rouhani, who won the election, I think indicated his interest in shifting how Iran approaches many of these international questions, but I think we understand that under their system the supreme leader will be making a lot of decisions,” Obama said. “And so we’re going to have to continue to see how this develops and how this evolves over the next several weeks, months, years.”

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