Congress fires warning shot at Iran

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.

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“We must signal unequivocally to Iran that rejecting negotiations and continuing its nuclear weapon program will lead to much more dramatic sanctions, including further limitations on Iran’s exports of crude oil and petroleum products,” the letter says.

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 (Bob) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-N.J.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Cruz to oppose Trump appeals court pick Senators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir MORE (R-S.C.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby MORE (R-Ill.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocratic senator warns O'Rourke AR-15 pledge could haunt party for years Scalise says it's unclear if bipartisan deal on guns will happen Senate Democrat says he is working with Republicans on bipartisan gun legislation MORE (D-Del.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states 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 Mason ReidHarry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info Poll: 47 percent back limits on Senate filibuster 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 Milton LevinStrange bedfellows oppose the filibuster Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home House Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns MORE (Mich.), Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions This week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings GOP senators object to White House delaying home-state projects for border wall MORE (Calif.) and Banking Committee Chairman Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonTrump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation 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 Ivan CantorEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington 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.