House Dems back Obama on Iran

Half of the Democrats in the House weighed in against taking immediate action on Iran Wednesday, sending a letter to President Obama that backs his position.

The letter from 100 Democrats — and four Republicans — comes just days after 42 Republican senators sent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) a partisan letter demanding that he schedule a vote on sanctions legislation immediately. The most recent sanctions bills, in contrast, passed the House 400-20 and the Senate 100-0.

“We believe that Congress must give diplomacy a chance,” the House letter states. “A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement, must be avoided.”

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The letter is the latest win for the White House, which has threatened to veto sanctions legislation that it says would derail diplomacy. America's largest pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, announced last week that it was not pushing for an immediate vote on the bill.

The letter praises Obama's “robust diplomacy” and commends him for the interim nuclear deal reached in Geneva last year.

Many Republicans have called the deal, which freezes Iran's nuclear program and loosens sanctions, a disaster.

“Should negotiations fail or falter, nothing precludes a change in strategy,” the House letter says. “But we must not imperil the possibility of a diplomatic success before we even have a chance to pursue it.”

Key Democrats, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Foreign Affairs ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), declined to sign. Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) joined the Democrats on the letter.

Here's the full text of the letter:

Dear Mr. President,

As Members of Congress—and as Americans—we are united in our unequivocal commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East would threaten the security of the United States and our allies in the region, particularly Israel. 

The ongoing implementation of the Joint Plan of Action agreed to by Iran and the “P5+1” nations last November increases the possibility of a comprehensive and verifiable international agreement. We understand that there is no assurance of success and that, if talks break down or Iran reneges on pledges it made in the interim agreement, Congress may be compelled to act as it has in the past by enacting additional sanctions legislation. At present, however, we believe that Congress must give diplomacy a chance. A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement, must be avoided.

We remain wary of the Iranian regime. But we believe that robust diplomacy remains our best possible strategic option, and we commend you and your designees for the developments in Geneva. Should negotiations fail or falter, nothing precludes a change in strategy. But we must not imperil the possibility of a diplomatic success before we even have a chance to pursue it. 

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