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Congress & the Middle East: House Letter Asking for Engagement with Iran's New President

(July 19, 2013)

Following Iran's presidential election, in which supposedly moderate candidate Hassan Rouhani emerged victorious, 131 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter urging President Obama to diplomatically engage with the new president.
The letter refers to Rouhani as a skeptic about the Iranian nuclear program and seems to buy into the portrait of Rouhani as a force for moderation in Iran. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, however, criticized the letter - "This letter will play into the hands of the Tehran regime, allowing it yet again to use negotiations to buy time to make progress on its nuclear weapons program."
The letter was sponsored by Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Charlie Dent (R-PA).

Dear President Obama:

As Members of Congress who share your unequivocal commitment to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, we  urge you to pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran's recent presidential election by reinvigorating U.S. efforts to secure a negotiated nuclear agreement.

As you know, on June 14 the Iranian people elected Hassan Rouhani president with over 50 percent of the vote in the first round, overcoming repression and intimidation by the Iranian government to cast their ballots in favor of reform.  Dr. Rouhani campaigned on the promise to “pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace” and has since promised “constructive interaction with the outside world.”  As Iran’s former lead nuclear negotiator, he has also publicly expressed the view that obtaining a nuclear weapon would run counter to Iran’s strategic interests and has been critical of the nuclear “extremism” of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

We are mindful of the limitations of the Iranian presidency within the country’s political system, of the fact that previous Iranian presidents elected on platforms of moderation have failed to deliver on promised reforms, and of the mixed signals that Dr. Rouhani himself has sent regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  It remains to be seen whether his election will indeed bring significant change with regard to Iran's relations with the outside world.  His government’s actions will certainly speak louder than his words.

Even so, we believe it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that ensures the country does not acquire a nuclear weapon.  In order to test this proposition, it will be prudent for the United States to utilize all diplomatic tools to reinvigorate ongoing nuclear talks.  In addition, bilateral and multilateral sanctions must be calibrated in such a way that they induce significant and verifiable concessions from Iran at the negotiating table in exchange for their potential relaxation.

We must also be careful not to preempt this potential opportunity by engaging in actions that delegitimize the newly elected president and weaken his standing relative to hardliners within the regime who oppose his professed “policy of reconciliation and peace.”  Likewise, it will be critical for the United States to continue its efforts to foster unprecedented international cooperation on this issue so that the international community remains united in its opposition to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We look forward to working with your administration on this important issue in the months ahead.


Charles Dent
David Price
Ron Barber
Karen Bass
Xavier Becerra
Ami Bera
Sanford Bishop
Tim Bishop
Earl Blumenauer
Suzanne Bonamici
Madaleine Bordallo
Bruce Braley
Cheri Bustos
John Campbell
Lois Capps
Michael Capuano
Tony Cardenas
Andre Carson
Matthew Cartwright
Donna Christensen
Lacy Clay
Emmanuel Cleaver
James Clyburn
Howard Coble
Steve Cohen
Tom Cole
Gerald Connolly
John Conyers
Joe Courtney
Hennry Cuellar
Elijah Cummings
Danny Davis
Peter DeFazio
Dianna DeGette
Rosa DeLauro
Suzan DelBene
John Dingell
Lloyd Doggett
Michael Doyle
Tammy Duckworth
Sean Duffy
John Duncan Jr.
Donna Edwards
Keith Ellison
William Enyart
Anna Eshoo
Elizabeth Etsy
Sam Farr
Stephen Fattah
Michael Fitzpatrick
Bill Foster
Jeff Fortenberry
John Garamendi
Raul Grijalva
Michael Grimm
Luis Guttierez
Richard Hanna
Alcee Hastings
Denny Heck
Brian Higgins
James Himes
Rush Holt
Michael Honda
Sheila Jackson-Lee
Eddie B. Johnson
Hank Johnson
Walter Jones
Marcy Kaptur
Robin Kelly
Ron Kind
Ann Kuster
Rick Larsen
Tom Larson
Barbara Lee
John Lewis
David Loesback
Zoe Lofgren
Ben Ray Lujan
Michelle Lujan Grisham
Jim Matheson
Betty McCollum
Jim McDermott
James P. McGovern
Gregory W. Meeks
George Miller
Gwen Moore
James P. Moran
Grace F. Napolitano
Richard E. Neal
Richard Nolan
Eleanor Holmes Norton
Richard B. Nugent
Beto O'Rourke
Bill Pascrell Jr.
Ed Pastor
Donald M. Payne Jr.
Ed Perlmutter
Scott H. Peters
Collin C. Peterson
Thomas E. Petri
Chellie Pingree
Mark Pocan
Jared Polis
Nick J. Rahall II
Charles B. Rangel
Lucille Roybal-Allard
Raul Ruiz
Jon Runyan
Bobby L. Rush
Tim Ryan
Gregario Sablan
Janice Schakowsky
Robert C. Scott
Jose E. Serrano
Carol Shea-Porter
Kyrsten Sinema
Louise Slaughter
Jackie Speier
Mark Takano
Glen Thompson
Mike Thompson
Patrick Tiberi
John Tierney
Paul Tonko
Niki Tsongas
Peter Visclosky
Timothy Walz
Maxine Waters
Peter Welch
Ed Whitfield
John Yarmuth

Sources: Weekly Standard