U.S. Congress Urges Obama to Impose 'Crippling Sanctions' on Iran

U.S. official: Iran could have nuclear bomb in a year; U.S. says China will support Iran sanctions.

On the heels of the 47-nation nuclear security summit in Washington, the United States Congress on Wednesday called on U.S. President Barack Obama to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran.

Officials from the Senate and the House of Representatives, such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Congress Minority Whip Eric Cantor, have sent bipartisan letters to the U.S. President, urging him to crack down on Iran.

"We urge you to join with those allies who are prepared for action to immediately impose crippling sanctions on Iran. Only such action on our part offers the prospect of persuading Tehran to turn away from its dangerous course," both letters read.

The letters were signed by over three-quarters of Congress with 363 signatures on the House letter and 76 signatures on the Senate letter.

"We urge you today to reaffirm boldly and unambiguously that the U.S. can and will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. We call on you to fulfill your June 2008 pledge that you would do 'everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," the letters read.

"Certainly, one way to begin would be to reverse the practice under which the U.S. government has awarded at least $107 billion over the past decade in federal contracts to companies investing in or doing business in Iran."

"Mr. President, we will soon complete our work on the Iranian sanctions legislation that has received the backing of overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Congress. We believe that America together with allies who share our approach can force Iran's regime to face the tough choice between international isolation ? if it continues its nuclear quest ? and possible reconciliation. We can do this by imposing punishing measures on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, rocking Iran's banking system, and dramatically impacting Iran's ability to import or refine petroleum," the letters read.

Meanwhile Wednesday, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said that Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium with the number of centrifuges it has installed to build one nuclear bomb in as little as a year.

"The general consensus - not knowing again the exact number of centrifuges that we actually have visibility into - is we're talking one year," Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess told a Senate panel.

However, a Pentagon official also said Wednesday that it could take Iran three to five more years to fully assemble a nuclear weapon.

"Experience says it is going to take you three to five years" once enough highly enriched uranium is produced, General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Michele Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said Obama has made clear all options are on the table to rein in Iran's nuclear program but that "military options are not preferable and we continue to believe that the most effective approach at this point in time is the combination of diplomacy and pressure."

Also on Wednesday, a senior U.S. official assured that China is likely to agree to impose new UN sanctions on Iran to pressure the Islamic republic to drop its nuclear aspirations.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, when asked during a Senate hearing if he believed that Beijing would agree to a new UN sanctions resolution, said: "Yes, sir, I do."

"I think we and the Chinese agree that we need to send a strong message to Iran," he added.

"Yes, sir, I think it is likely that we will be able to produce a Security Council resolution. ... I hope very much in weeks."

But Burns said it would be "very difficult" to get either China or Russia to agree to sanctions that would cut off the flow of refined petroleum products to Iran, a proposal backed by many U.S. lawmakers.