US Reaction to Rouhani at UN: Part 2

      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.
 *Emphasis added by Iran Primer