WASHINGTON -- Two House Democrats are mobilizing their colleagues against a bill to slap more sanctions on Iran, circulating a letter that backs President Barack Obama's position that such a bill would jeopardize delicate nuclear negotiations.
Spokespersons for Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and David Price (D-N.C.) said they have more than 70 signatories on a letter urging Congress to "give diplomacy a chance." The lawmakers also expect more Democrats to sign on, their offices said.
Under an interim agreement, Iran has agreed to halt most -- but not all -- of its uranium enrichment in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Nuclear talks with several Western powers, including the U.S., continue.
"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," the letter states.
"Iranian hard liners may ultimately obstruct a meaningful permanent agreement, but Congress should not give them a pretext for doing so," said Doggett in a statement. "The support for this letter from a broad and growing coalition of more than 70 Members sends a strong signal that Democrats stand for peace and diplomacy."
The letter was first reported by The Washington Post.
President Obama has pledged to veto a bill sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) that would hit Iran with more sanctions unless it agrees to restrictions on its uranium enrichment that go beyond what the Western powers negotiated in the six-month deal. Iran's foreign minister has warned that additional sanctions would kill the deal.
The House voted overwhelmingly for a much harsher sanctions bill in July, but House Republicans have floated the possibility of voting on the Senate legislation as a way to pressure the upper chamber. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, urged House Democrats to vote against that bill at a private White House meeting in January.
The Doggett-Price letter represents a more public effort by House Democrats to undermine the sanctions push, which has been losing steam in recent days. The Senate bill has stalled. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly declined to say when it might be voted on. At least five of its 15 Democratic co-sponsors have backed away from holding a vote for the moment. And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- far and away the Democrats' most popular choice for presidential candidate in 2016 -- came out against the bill in a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Sunday.
"Since 'Legislation relating to Iran sanctions' remains on the weekly House Whip notice, support for this letter from a broad and growing coalition of Members is important," said Doggett in another statement. "It sends a strong signal in support of diplomacy as an alternative to war. The letter remains open for additional Members to join it."
Read the full 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.
The story has been updated with a later statement from Rep. Lloyd Doggett.