WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of 104 House members urged Congress in a letter sent Wednesday to President Barack Obama not to vote on an Iran sanctions bill while an interim agreement between the Iran and the West is in place.
"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," wrote the members. "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."
The effort represents a momentum shift in the House against sanctions. A bill backing sanctions passed in the chamber by a 400-20 vote in July.
Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and David Price (D-N.C.) gathered support for the letter, which as of Feb. 3 had more than 70 signatories. They also picked up four Republican signatories -- Reps. John Duncan Jr. (Tenn.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Walter Jones (N.C.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.). The only member of the Democratic leadership to sign onto the letter was Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.); House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) did not sign.
The letter comes as the effort by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to pass an Iran sanctions bill has lost steam in the Senate. That bill would hit Iran with more sanctions unless it agreed to restrictions on uranium enrichment that go beyond the current six-month interim agreement negotiated with Western powers. Iran's foreign minister has warned that additional sanctions would kill the interim deal.
Even the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prime driver behind the sanctions push, has backed off the idea of holding a vote.
Talks between the West and Iran on a permanent agreement for its nuclear program are slated to begin in mid-February.