US reaction to Rouhani at UN

 Senior U.S. officials have welcomed signals indicating a conciliatory shift in Iran’s foreign policy. “What’s different about President [Hassan] Rouhani is not simply some matter of personality,” a senior administration official said in response to a question about Rouhani’s address to the United Nations. The difference is that Rouhani was “elected expressly on a mandate to pursue a more moderate foreign policy and to achieve a nuclear deal,” the official told the press on September 24.

The Obama administration proposed an informal meeting of the U.S. president and his Iranian counterpart on the U.N. General Assembly  sidelines. But President Rouhani told CNN that the two sides “didn’t have sufficient time really coordinate the meeting.” Meeting with U.S. officials is a “very sensitive subject,” Rouhani told a group of American editors and columnists from top news organizations. “We have not talked at that level for 35 years. We must take these steps carefully,” he said on September 25.
The Obama administration is trying to demonstrate openness “to any type of negotiation,” said a U.S. official in one of two briefings on Iran and the U.N. General Assembly. In a separate statement, a senior State Department official expressed hope that Iran can “chart a path forward” with the world’s six major powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. “We are looking forward to having the political directors meet – on a date to be scheduled in October,” said the official. The following are excerpts from White House and State Department press releases.

Senior State Department Official
Sept. 24, 2013
            President Obama and Secretary Kerry have long supported an effort to engage the Iranians through direct negotiations, including bilateral discussion in coordination with the P5+1 process, and they believe it is worth testing the potential for a new opening with new leadership in Iran. The President has asked Secretary Kerry to help play a leading role as we determine path forward.
            But actions speak louder than words, and the steps taken by the Iranians in the weeks ahead to show they are serious will determine how successful these efforts will be and how long they will take.
            While we do not anticipate that any issues will be resolved later this week during the P5+1 meeting that EU High Representative Ashton has organized, we are hopeful that we can continue to chart a path forward.  We  have had a number of communications with Iran over time and we are looking forward to having the political directors meet – on a date to be scheduled in October – for substantive discussions.
Senior Obama Administration Officials
Sept. 24, 2013 at 5:21 P.M.
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, first, let me step back and — we believe that the new Iranian government under President Rouhani does present an opportunity to make progress on a diplomatic negotiation; that they’ve indicated a seriousness that we had not seen under the previous government.  And it’s precisely because of that that Secretary Kerry is going to be meeting with the P5-plus-1 and Foreign Minister Zarif, which is a uniquely high-level meeting for the United States and Iran to be participating in together.
            We indicated to the Iranians the same thing privately that we said publicly, which is that President Obama is open to a discussion with his Iranian counterpart.  We did not intend to have a formal bilateral meeting and negotiation of any kind.  This would have rather been them having a few minutes to have a discussion on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly.  That was done at the staff level directly with the Iranians, so not through any intermediary.  Particularly here in New York, it’s not difficult to communicate directly to the Iranians, as they’re coming to UNGA.
            In terms of complications, I think our assessment is while President Rouhani has been elected with a mandate to pursue a more moderate foreign policy towards the West and to pursue negotiations — in part to achieve sanctions relief — the issue of the relationship between the United States and Iran is incredibly controversial within Iran.  You heard the President speak to it today — the decades of mistrust between our countries.  And I think that from the Iranian side, for them it was just too difficult for them to move forward with that type of encounter at the presidential level, at this juncture.  So we’re going to continue the negotiating track through our foreign ministers.
            QUESTION:  When did these conversations begin?  And when did you guys get final word that it wouldn’t happen?  Was it before the President addressed the Assembly this morning, or after?
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think — we’ve been having these contacts, I’d just say, while we’ve been here in New York.  Again, I think it’s important to note we never would have contemplated any kind of formal bilateral meeting, but were open to an encounter discussion on the margins.  It became apparent that that was not going to happen today after the President’s remarks, because that’s the window of time when he was going to be over at the U.N.
           I’d also underscore — since we came into office, one of the reasons that we’ve been able to maintain international unity among the P5-plus-1 and other countries, and build the sanctions regime that we have in place, is because the United States has indicated our openness to diplomacy with Iran, so that the issue in play is not whether the United States is being recalcitrant in refusing to negotiate, but whether the Iranians will do so.
           So I think it’s important for us to continue to demonstrate to the world that even as we see positive indicators from President Rouhani, that those words needs to be followed by actions.  And there is still clearly need to do more work in order to create the basis for not just a negotiation, but the type of encounter that we were contemplating today…
           Iran has a baseline set of positions that they have taken for a long time.  I think what’s different about President Rouhani is not simply some matter of personality.  Clearly, he is not as bombastic as President Ahmadinejad.  He does not say things that are quite as inflammatory as his predecessor.  What’s different is he was elected expressly on a mandate to pursue a more moderate foreign policy and to achieve a nuclear deal in order to achieve sanctions relief.
           And this is the important point:  This is not something that we believe happens out of goodwill; we believe that Iran has an imperative to improve its economy, because every single economic indicator is negative for them.  The only way that they can improve the economy is through achieving sanctions relief.  So that’s the context that’s changed.  And so if President Rouhani is going to fulfill his commitments to improve the Iranian economy, he is going to need to achieve sanctions relief.  That can only be achieved through a meaningful negotiation and agreement with the international community.  So that’s what I think gives us a sense that there’s a basis for progress here.
           So we’ll have to continue to test whether those indications can be followed through with different negotiating positions from the Iranian side.  That will take place in the P5-plus-1, starting on Thursday, when Secretary Kerry sits down with his P5 counterparts and Foreign Minister Zarif.  But we would not expect them to shift their negotiating positions publicly on the front end of that process, just as we would not shift our commitment to maintain strong sanctions at the front end of any negotiation.
           QUESTION:  I’m curious, did you go into today thinking that there was a realistic chance that this encounter was going to happen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don’t think we had — the interesting thing here is that it’s difficult for the Iranians to take this step, given their history.  And so I think we always recognize that.  It was certainly not likely that they’d be able to get over that type of hurdle.  What we’re in a position of saying is we want to test this diplomatic process in every way we can.  The substance will take place through the P5-plus-1 and through Secretary Kerry’s efforts.
           At the same time, it’s important for us to demonstrate that we’re open to any type of negotiation.  And, frankly, in our view, it’s a demonstration of strength to say here’s a new leader, he’s had some new things to say about this issue — we’re willing to hear him out. And we’ll do that at any time.  And the fact of the matter is we’re going to continue to test this, because the achievement of an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, as the President said today, would address a significant national security concern in the United States and the world, and also potentially reduce tensions more broadly in the region.
           So we felt it was important to test today.  It was not something that we had any high degree of certainty would take place.  But we’re going to continue to put the test to the Iranians — because, frankly, ultimately, the onus is on them to demonstrate that this is a real change in course and a real opening.
           The only thing I’d note in that regard, though, is that just the foreign minister-level meeting on Thursday is a change.  Iranian foreign ministers have not sat down with American secretaries of state in any context in a very long time.  And, frankly, that’s where the substance of these negotiations will take place anyway.
           QUESTION:  Was there any concern that there was — or some risks inherent in going ahead and doing the handshake?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, we’ve always rejected the premise that somehow just having an encounter with a foreign leader, even of an adversarial nation, is in any way a concession.  And, frankly, the very fact that they were unwilling to go forward with it demonstrates that they were the ones who had discomfort with it in terms of dealing with their own complexities back home.
           I think that it’s important for us to demonstrate to the international community that even as we hear some new things from this leader, we need to stay united in the enforcement of sanctions and the insistence that Iran undertake meaningful commitments as a part of a negotiation and an agreement.  They can’t just say different things and expect to achieve a different result, unless they actually follow through with those actions.
           On his speech, look, the President reiterated today our determination to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon, identified a core interest in the prevention of nuclear proliferation, indicated that all options are available in terms of how we carry out that core interest and protect it.  So I’m sure that’s something that the Iranians would indicate has been something that they do not like in our rhetoric.
           The fact of the matter is these issues are going to have to be dealt with through negotiation.  And I think that we are moving with some urgency in that regard.  The Iranians have a sense of urgency, given the fact that the only way their economy can improve is through sanctions relief.  And I think the foreign minister’s participation in these meetings indicates the seriousness with which they’re approaching diplomacy.
           At the same time, we have a sense of urgency in no small measure because of our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.  And that’s something that the Israelis frequently comment on and talk to us about.  We’re in close coordination with both Israel and our Gulf allies.  I think they have recognition that it would be preferable to achieve a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue.  They’re skeptical of Iranian intentions — which is understandable, given their history with Iran — but we do see the potential for progress, certainly more so than we have in the last several years, since we had a negotiation with them in 2009.  And we’re going to test that in the weeks ahead.
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On today, I think what we learned is, as the President said in his speech, we are overcoming a significant history of mistrust, and that there are hurdles to achieving a diplomatic resolution; and that Iran has to do more to demonstrate that some of the conciliatory words that we’ve seen out of President Rouhani will lead to a different position at the negotiating table and different actions in terms of their foreign policy.
           Again, not surprising, but I think important to demonstrate to the world, that the U.S. is open.  The U.S. is ready to negotiate, and that the Iranians need to come seriously to the table.  And we hope that that will be the case beginning later this week, and we’ll continue to test this proposition going forward.
           QUESTION:  Can you help us understand better the complexities that you were sensing from them as to why they couldn’t come to the table?  Did the Iranians ask for anything specifically of the U.S. to have a meeting?  And also, just curious to get an understanding of why you’re briefing all of us while Rouhani was speaking.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I wouldn’t read anything into the latter.  We’re just — that’s purely a logistical issue, so in no way timed to his speaking.
           On the former, I think we’re just mainly speaking to the fact that even with a different Iranian president than President Rouhani — who has made a central part of his campaign in his initial presidency outreach to the West — I think given the history in Iran, has difficulty in going forward with this type of encounter.  Every leader has his or her own politics, and that’s certainly the case with President Rouhani.
           Again, I think our view is it’s a demonstration of strength to say that you’ll meet anytime, anywhere to discuss how to resolve an issue.  And the President is certainly — will continue to be willing to do that.  I think President Rouhani and the Iranian side will need to determine how they can both move forward through a negotiation that will include the foreign minister level, and then ultimately, what types of changes that they’re willing to make in their positions in order to achieve a new relationship with the United States, which depends upon resolving this nuclear issue.
           So it’s something we’ll continue to test.  This is already a different environment, given the seriousness of the Iranian side in pursuing negotiations in the level that will be started on Thursday.  But we don’t expect there to be an agreement reached on Thursday, either.  This is going to be a process that takes place over time, and that time is not unlimited by any stretch.  I think both sides feel some urgency.  But we’ll just continue to test this diplomatic opportunity.
           QUESTION:  But to be clear, did they propose anything in exchange for a handshake today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I wouldn’t want to characterize their views too much.  I mean, obviously, they have a set of negotiating positions, but the fact of the matter is we were never contemplating any negotiation between the Presidents.  We were very clear in our discussions that this was not any venue, formal bilateral meeting, or nuclear negotiation; this would have been an informal encounter on the margins of the General Assembly.  And that’s precisely because we want to empower the P5-plus-1 process, the foreign ministers, Secretary Kerry, to be the ones negotiating substance.  That’s why the President announced in his speech that Secretary Kerry will be taking the lead in terms of pursuing this negotiation with the Iranians and the P5-plus-1…
           Well, look, we have a clear statement of policy, which is that we are determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  Now, we’ve also made clear we have a preference to do that through diplomacy, but we’re not going to change that policy simply because there’s a new leader in Iran.
           Again, it’s not surprising that the Iranian leader would condemn sanctions.  Sanctions are precisely what has significantly damaged their economy and I think invested them in trying to achieve a resolution through diplomacy.  But we are open to negotiation, open to find ways to build confidence with the Iranians.  As the President said, there’s space for an agreement, given that both the Supreme Leader and President Rouhani have said that it is not their policy to pursue nuclear weapons, and the President has said that the Iranian people can have access to peaceful nuclear energy.  It’s defining the space within those statements that is going to be the work of diplomats going forward.
           QUESTION:  Sorry if this has already been addressed, but one thing — is there any reason why Ambassador Power didn’t stay in her seat for all of Rouhani’s speech, number one?  Number two… was there something the Iranians wanted in return to make that handshake happen?
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On Sam Power, I don’t think she was there for the speech.  My understanding is that she was in the bilat with Foreign Minister Lavrov, which, obviously, we have a negotiation going on over the chemical weapons resolution.  But State can speak to that — but that’s my understanding.
           On the second thing, I think our point to them — I wouldn’t want to characterize their side of the discussions other than to say that, in our view, this wasn’t a negotiation over substance.  There was never going to be some type of agreement reached in the meeting in the first place.  So that wasn’t a discussion we were having or entertaining with them in terms of what we agree — any substantive agreement that would be reached out of the meeting.  This was more about whether or not the two leaders would get together on the margins of the Assembly.
           QUESTION:  Is there any sense of disappointment from the President that this did not happen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, I think — look, the President has said for six years now that he’s willing to meet the Iranian leadership.  And I think there’s, frankly, not just a necessity of testing this proposition, but also demonstrating to the world that we’re the ones who are open to negotiation.  That’s how we have maintained international unity.  Without a U.S. willingness to engage Iran, I don’t think we would have achieved the sanctions that we have.  I don’t think we would have maintained P5-plus-1 unity.
           So it’s important for us to continue to send that signal.  President Rouhani had sent a number of signals through interviews that he had given leading into the trip that he’s taken to New York.  At the end of the day, though, I think we want to demonstrate that the United States is certainly open to this.  But Iran has to change its policies, not just in atmospherics but in their actions.
Sept. 24, 2013 at 2:48 P.M
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  What we had indicated was the same thing we’ve been saying to you guys for the last few days and the President said for the last few years, which is we’re open to having discussion with the Iranians at any level.  We did not have any plan for a formal bilateral meeting here.  We indicated that the two leaders could have had a discussion on the margins if the opportunity presented itself.  The Iranians got back to us; it was clear that it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home.
           So we’re going to continue to pursue this through the channel that the President announced in his speech today, which is Secretary Kerry with Foreign Minister Zarif in the P5-plus-1.
           QUESTION:  When you say it’s too complicated for them, you’re suggesting that domestically, politically, it was not in their interest?  Is that what you mean?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think you’ll have to ask them.  I mean, clearly, there are complicated dynamics in Iran surrounding the relationship with the United States.  Again, at the same time, I think part of what has strengthened the United States in the international community in terms of our unity is the President’s openness to engage Iran, and that’s what we’ve indicated from the beginning of the administration.  And I think that indicates that we’re ready to solve this problem, and that’s what we’ve indicated not just when we came into office, but most recently with President Rouhani…
State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki
Sept. 23, 2013
            We hope that the new Iranian government will engage substantively with the international community to reach a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program and to cooperate fully with the IAEA in its investigation.  We remain ready to work with Iran should the Rouhani administration choose to engage seriously.  Secretary Kerry welcomes the Foreign Minister’s commitment to a substantive response and to his agreement to meeting in the short term with permanent UN Security Council members and Germany coordinated by EU High Representative Ashton to discuss the nuclear program.


More than a dozen members of Congress have issued statements indicating skepticism towards new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures. In a joint statement, Republican senators John McCain (left), Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte supported the Obama administration’s willingness to try diplomacy with Tehran. But they were suspicious about the “real motivations behind Iran’s charm offensive.” Rouhani has committed Tehran to constructive engagement with the outside world in several recent interviews and statements, including his September 24 address to the United Nations.

           Other members of Congress were less willing to test Iran’s sincerity through diplomacy. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen argued that now is the “time to deliver the crushing blow” to the regime. A group of 11 Republican senators led by Marco Rubio urged President Obama “to increase pressure on Iran and to stand with the Iranian people, not pursue diplomatic half-measures that will allow their rulers to continue to delay and obfuscate and avoid real reforms.” The following are excerpted statements and letters by members of Congress on Iran and President Obama’s policies.

Skeptical Reactions to President Rouhani
Senators John McCain (R- Arizona), Lindsey Graham (R- South Carolina) and Kelly Ayotte (R- New Hampshire)
Sept. 24, 2013
             We support the willingness of the Obama Administration to test the credibility of the Iranian regime’s diplomatic overtures. However, we are deeply skeptical about the real motivations behind Iran’s charm offensive. We need to approach the current diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open, and we must not allow Iran to use negotiations as a tool of delay and deception. A real negotiation does not mean that the diplomats talk while the Iranians enrich.
            When Secretary Kerry sits down with the Iranian Foreign Minister, we urge him to make clear that the U.S. government, the American people, and the U.S. Congress will never allow the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism to acquire the world’s most dangerous weapon. Kind words are not enough. We must see transparent, tangible, and verifiable steps by the Iranian regime to fulfill its international obligations and end its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. The American people and Congress will not support anything less.
            We also urge Secretary Kerry to make clear to the Iranian Foreign Minister that, while Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability is our top concern, it is not our only concern. We are also opposed to the Iranian regime’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East – including its support for terrorist organizations and attacks across the region that have killed Americans; its commitment to the destruction of Israel; its attempts to assassinate Israeli and Arab officials; its oppression of the Iranian people; its threat to friendly Arab governments; its development of increasingly capable ballistic missiles; and its unwavering military assistance to the Assad regime, which has slaughtered more than 110,000 men, women, and children.
Critical Reactions to President Rouhani
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R- Florida)
Sept. 24, 2013
            It’s clear that sanctions imposed against the regime in Tehran by both the U.S. and UN have weakened Iran’s economy and have measurably reduced the regime’s ability to acquire materials needed to complete its nuclear program. Now is not the time to ease the pressure; it’s the time to deliver the crushing blow. The regime’s charm offensive shows that there is a crack in its façade, and we must impose even harsher sanctions until the mullahs give up on their nuclear ambitions.
            North Korea provides an example of what happens when the United States offers concessions for empty promises and rhetoric. I call on the Administration to re-designate North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because of its continued support of Tehran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and other illicit activities. Direct negotiations with the Iranian regime would undermine U.S. national security interests and the security of our ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel. The Administration must not fall for Rouhani’s deception, and it must not offer any concessions that will simply buy Tehran more time to reach its objective. The world would be faced with the reality of a nuclear armed Iran and an all-out arms race in the Middle East.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R- California)
Sept. 24, 2013
            We don’t need words from Rouhani; we need real action from Tehran.  The regime’s commitment to negotiations shouldn’t be measured by rhetoric, but by the nuclear activities it ceases.  Through crippling economic sanctions we can continue to increase the pressure on the regime, targeting its ability to pursue a nuclear weapons capability.
Senators Marco Rubio (R- Florida), Pat Roberts (R- Kansas), John Cornyn (R- Texas), John Hoeven (R- North Dakota), James Risch (R- Idaho), David Vitter (R- Louisiana), Roy Blunt (R- Missouri), John Boozman (R- Arkansas), Ted Cruz (R- Texas), Dan Coats (R- Indiana) and John Barrasso (R- Wyoming) 
Sept. 24, 2013
            Dear Mr. President:
            We are writing to you given recent press reports about the exchange of letters you have had with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
            We are skeptical that Mr. Rouhani’s election will bring much change to Iranian policies.  As you know, Iran continues to support its key ally Bashar al-Assad, by some estimates sending thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah fighters to prop up the Assad government and aid its horrific killing of thousands of Syrians, including through the use of chemical weapons.
            Also, despite the hopes that many have had that Mr. Rouhani would dramatically improve Iran’s abysmal human rights situation, Iranians still are being denied their fundamental freedoms of assembly, the press, and conscience.  For example, this week marks the one year anniversary of the imprisonment of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini who is serving an eight year prison term for practicing his faith.
Iran also continues to make steady progress toward a nuclear weapon.  Based on the latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it appears that Iran could reach the so-called “critical capability” to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear explosive device without being detected by mid-2014, if not earlier.    Despite sanctions and international pressure and the arrival of Mr. Rouhani, Iran has not changed course and is close to obtaining this capability that will likely result in a cascade of nuclear proliferation in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
On September 15th, you said that a credible threat of force was important to a resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.  We are writing to make clear that although those of us on this letter were unable to support your request for congressional authorization to use military force in Syria because of our concerns about the underlying strategy, we all agree that Iran should not perceive any weakness as a result of our differences over Syria policy.  Tehran must understand that while there may be disagreements in the United States about how best to bring about the fall of Assad, that we are united in our determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.
            We are thus troubled by reports that you might be considering offering a new proposal that would leave the door open to a nuclear Iran, perhaps allowing Iran to preserve part of its nuclear weapons program. 
We understand that Iran has a right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to peaceful civilian nuclear energy.  We do not believe, however, that this means that Iran should have access to the entire nuclear fuel cycle.  As a country that has repeatedly and blatantly violated its international obligations in this area and because of the proliferation risk posed by even a limited enrichment program and possession of sensitive reprocessing technologies, we will not be able to support any deal with Iran, including through sanctions relief, that compromises on this issue.  Iran’s track record of obfuscation and delay is clear and so is the risk to Israel as well as other U.S. allies and interests in the region.  Given this record and the risks, Iran must not be allowed to retain any enrichment or reprocessing capabilities.
This is a key moment in the Middle East as many of Iran’s neighbors are struggling with how to respond to the desires of their people for freedom and an end to decades of authoritarian rule.
We stand ready to work with you to send a bipartisan message to the Iranian regime that its continued desire for a nuclear weapons capability as well as its continued support for terrorism, its repression of its people, and its increasingly overt involvement in a civil war that has now killed more than one hundred thousand Syrians are all unacceptable.
 Now is the time to increase pressure on Iran and to stand with the Iranian people, not pursue diplomatic half-measures that will allow their rulers to continue to delay and obfuscate and avoid real reforms.  We look forward to working with you on this vital issue to U.S. national security.
Senator Ted Cruz (R- Texas)
            Senator Cruz introduced the following resolution on September 24.
            Whereas the newly elected President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, is attending the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City;
            Whereas the Government of Iran has yet to take any practical steps towards halting Iran’s nuclear programs and remains a committed state-sponsor of terrorist groups that have been responsible for American deaths in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan;
            Whereas, since the election of President Rouhani, the persecution by the Government of Iran of religious minorities, notably Christians, has increased not decreased, and the United States citizen Pastor Sayeed Abedini has endured a year of brutal imprisonment for professing his faith;
            Whereas President Rouhani has called Israel the “Zionist state” that has been “a wound that has sat on the body of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed”; and
Whereas President Barack Obama has signaled a willingness to meet with President Rouhani in New York during the meeting of the United Nations Security Council or thereafter: Now, therefore, be it
            Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that President Obama should not engage in any meeting with President Rouhani before the Government of Iran —
    (1) affirms the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state; and
    (2) immediately and without conditions releases all United States citizens unjustly detained as prisoners of conscience in Iran.
Reactions and Messages to President Obama
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R- Virginia)
Sept. 24, 2013
            Contrary to President Obama’s comments, the world is not more stable than it was five years ago.
            The world needs American leadership and an honest assessment of the challenges we face. Perhaps the most urgent challenge is the need to confront Iran for its aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons, flagrant violations of international law, embrace of radical terrorism and blind support for Assad’s brutal assault on the Syrian people. We should test the new Iranian President, but also be realistic that neither Iran’s real leaders — the Supreme Leader, clerical elite and security apparatus — nor their policies have changed since President Rouhani took office.
            Iran must come into compliance with the repeated demands of the U.N. Security Council and negotiate the verifiable abandonment of its nuclear weapons program, or face even greater pressure, including the real threat of military force. Congress will not be not fooled by President Rouhani’s empty gestures. We will welcome real change in Iran’s behavior if it comes – and we will be prepared if it does not.
Senator Robert Menendez (D- New Jersey) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R- South Carolina)
Sept. 23, 2013
            Dear Mr. President:
            As you prepare to deliver remarks to the United Nations later this week, we urge you to re-state the United States position that we will not permit Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability and demand verifiable action from Iran that will permit the possibility of a diplomatic accord with the international community.
            Like you, we viewed the election of Hassan Rouhani as an indicator of discontent amongst the Iranian people and we have taken note of recent diplomatic overtures by Iran. However, whatever nice words we may hear from Mr. Rouhani, it is Iranian action that matters. We would welcome a credible and verifiable agreement with Iran. A real agreement would have real benefits for Iran.
            We also recall, however, Iran’s prior use of negotiations as a subterfuge for progress on its clandestine nuclear program, as well as Iran’s continued financing of terrorist activities — from those carried out by its own Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps to its support for Hezbollah whose actions have most recently strengthened the brutal hand of Bashar al-Assad. Iran is not a friend whose word can be taken as a promise. The test of Iranian seriousness must be verifiable action by Iran to terminate its nuclear weapons program, including compliance with the mandates of four UN Security Council Resolutions.
            In the letter sent to you on August 2, signed by 76 Senators, we expressed our belief that there are four strategic elements necessary to achieve a resolution of this issue: an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, the maintenance and toughening of sanctions and a convincing threat of the use of force. We reiterate those views in this letter.
            The national security implications of a nuclear Iran are unimaginable — threatening the very existence of our ally the State of Israel, as well as launching an all but certain nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.
            As you prepare to address the United Nations next week in New York, we urge you to make clear the United States’ goal of achieving a diplomatic solution, but also our resolve to take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from become a nuclear state.
Senator Charles Schumer (D- New York) and Senator John McCain (R- Arizona)
Sept. 23, 2013
            Dear Mr. President:
            As you prepare to address the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow and consider a meeting with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, we respectfully urge that any diplomatic outreach to Iran reemphasize that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and that any relief from crippling economic sanctions on Iran will only be provided if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable actions to halt its nuclear activities. Over the past several years, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress has worked with your administration to put in place the most rigorous sanctions on Iran. These measures have had an overwhelming impact on the Iranian economy, causing a sharp drop in the value of Iran’s currency and crippling key sectors of its economy, such as energy, banking and shipping. The impact of these sanctions may finally be bringing Iran to the negotiating table, and now is not the time to delay, remove or loosen these measures. Doing so now would be extremely counterproductive. Instead, we should continue to move forward with strong implementation of our sanctions unless Iran suspends its nuclear program.
As you know, the Iranian government, to this very day, has continued to press forward with its nuclear program. It has quintupled its stockpile of low enriched uranium since 2009 and has come much closer to possessing weapons-grade uranium by enriching up to 20 percent of it. Iran has also raced towards completion of its hardened Fordow enrichment facility, more than doubling the number of centrifuges installed there just since July 2012. These facts mean that Iran is very much in hot pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, and we must do everything we can to bring their ambitions to a halt. Your speech to the General Assembly and potential U.S. discussions with President Rouhani or other Iranian officials offer a possible opening to establish expectations for diplomatic talks and set the tone that an Iranian nuclear weapons capability will not be tolerated.
 First, we strongly believe that it must be reemphasized that it is the policy of the United States that it will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. With the world’s attention on Syria and other matters, this is an opportunity to reinforce that there will be absolutely no relaxing of pressure on the Iranians until the entirety of their nuclear situation has been addressed. Iran must show it is serious about reaching a legitimate diplomatic solution accompanied by full and verifiable compliance. Talks cannot be merely a stalling tactic, while Iran continues to move forward with aggressive enrichment of uranium. This would require Iran to fully implement all of its obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, including the suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities, as well as the removal from its territory of all uranium enriched to the twenty percent level.
 Second, we believe that the United States must make use of all elements of our national power to pressure Iran, including the aggressive implementation of existing sanctions. Now is not the time to let up on this pressure. Removal of any existing sanctions must depend on Iran’s halting of its nuclear program. Conversely, the continuation or expansion of its nuclear activities will only lead to more sanctions led by the United States and our friends and allies. We must make it clear that the United States will not scale back sanctions unless accompanied by real, meaningful action by the Iranian regime.
Third, it is important that you reiterate to Iran the seriousness of our resolve. We believe no one should question American intent to act against Iran’s nuclear program. Strengthening the threat of force will be necessary if talks with Iran are to succeed.
We respectfully urge that any diplomatic outreach to Iran reemphasize that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and that any relief of crippling economic sanctions on Iran will only be provided if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable actions to halt its nuclear activities.
We look forward to working with you on this important task.

By Iran Primer


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