- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2013

In a broad show of bipartisan support for containing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, all but one member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee signed a letter to President Obama on Monday calling for him to increase pressure on the Islamic republic.

“Our diplomatic goal must be to reach a negotiated settlement in which Iran agrees to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program,” states the letter, signed by all of the committee’s Republicans and all but one of its Democrats. “For this outcome to be realized, Iran must face intensifying pressure.”

The nuclear program has the Obama administration and its international allies at an impasse with Iranian leaders, who argue that the program is peaceful and not geared to developing weapons.

The House members who wrote to Mr. Obama on Monday, however, pointed to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency — the top nuclear watchdog group for the United Nations — which cited an acceleration in Iran’s nuclear activities.

While the report stopped short of saying outright that Iran was moving more quickly toward development of a nuclear warhead, lawmakers said recent findings could be read that way.

“Tehran is dramatically expanding its nuclear infrastructure: installing advanced centrifuges which would quadruple the speed with which Iran can enrich uranium, while continuing construction of a heavy water reactor which will permit a plutonium option,” they wrote. “Our diplomacy and sanctions strategies must reflect these dangerous realities.”

Meanwhile, with the value of Iran’s currency taking a nosedive in recent months, the Obama administration has won praise from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill for leading a global embargo on Iranian crude oil and for imposing sanctions on the nation’s banking and automotive sectors.

But Monday’s letter sheds light on the growing number of Democrats now onboard with what had been predominantly a Republican effort.

The letter also notably arrives on the heels of Iran’s presidential election.

Some foreign policy analysts have argued that President-elect Hasan Rouhani is more moderate than outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, as a result, more likely to negotiate with the U.S. and other Western powers toward a peaceful dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program.

Foreign Affairs Committee members appeared eager to quash such assessments Monday.

Iran’s election unfortunately has done nothing to suggest a reversal of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capacity,” the lawmakers wrote to Mr. Obama. “President-elect Rouhani, who served as a nuclear negotiator for Iran at a time its illicit program was well underway, indicated his support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions in his first post-election news conference.

“Indeed, there appears nothing ‘moderate’ about his nuclear policies, which are a continuation of the policies that have been roundly opposed by the international community,” the letter to Mr. Obama states. “Moreover, decisions about Iran’s nuclear program and foreign policy rest mainly in the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamene’i. Khamene’i has recently reiterated his view that Iran has no reason to normalize relations with the United States.”

The committee praised the White House for issuing an executive order last month that expanded sanctions on Iran to begin targeting the nation’s automotive and banking industry, but said Mr. Obama would be wise to “increase the pressure on Iran in the days ahead.”

“An added positive action would be extending sector-based sanctions to the mining, engineering, and construction-based sectors of Iran,” the lawmakers wrote. “We plan to strengthen sanctions with additional legislation already approved unanimously by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and now pending in the House of Representatives.”

Delegate Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, American Samoa Democrat, was the only member of the committee who did not sign the letter.

Mr. Faleomavaega said Monday evening that while he respected the bipartisanship of the letter, he already “fully” supports the “way the Obama administration is proceeding in handling this matter on Iran.”