Senators tell Obama to hold firm on Iran
A bipartisan group of Senators today sent a tough-worded letter to President Obama about Iran. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) praised the "cascade" of recently enacted sanctions. The senators urged the president to emphasize that we intend to "keep ratcheting" up the pressure and that there will be "no possibility of any freeze or reductions" in sanctions until we get a "full, verifiable and sustained suspension" of the Iranians enrichment activities. Saying they are concerned that Iran is simply playing for time, they warned Obama not to be distracted by "tactical maneuvering" by the Iranian regime. Finally, the senators said they oppose "any diplomatic endgame" that would allow Iran to keep its nuclear program.
There seems to be concern among these senators -- as well as others -- that Obama again will lapse into endless "engagement," allowing the Iranians still more time to move advance their nuclear capability.
A senate aide e-mails me about the thinking behind the letter:
The purpose of the letter was to send a bipartisan message to the administration, first, that - until there is a full, sustained suspension in enrichment - the view from the Hill is that the sanctions need to keep ratcheting up. Whatever the merits of 'confidence building' measures like the [Tehran Research Reactor] or other tactical maneuvers, they should do nothing to undermine the momentum we have finally begun to achieve on the pressure track. Second, the letter makes the point that there will be very strong opposition to any kind of proposal that allows the Iranians to keep some sort of enrichment capability. This is an extremely dangerous idea that it is important to knock down.
Or, in blunter terms, the senators are concerned that what the president has said is "unacceptable" -- Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons -- might not mean that absolutely, positively no nuclear weapons program can be left in Iranian hands.
An experienced Middle East negotiator expressed delight that the senators are trying to warn the administration not to get sucked into more fruitless talk with the Iranians. "This is an excellent shot across Obama's bow -- and into [State Department undersecretary for political affairs] Bill Burns's briefcase," he said.
Like Margaret Thatcher, these senators are warning the president not to go "wobbly." Let's see if he listens.
UPDATE: Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Az.) have signed the letter as well.
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