WASHINGTON – 140 bipartisan lawmakers urged the Biden administration on Tuesday to adopt a comprehensive approach to curb the range of threats that Iran poses to the Middle East.
The 70 Democrats and 70 Republicans – led by Rep. Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Maryland, and Rep. Michael Waltz, a Republican from Florida – wrote Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to address Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s ballistic missile program and Iran’s broader illicit activities.
“As Democrats and Republicans from across the political spectrum, we are united in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior. There is consensus within Congress that allowing one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism to obtain nuclear weapons is an unacceptable risk,” the lawmakers wrote.
They stated that "restrictions on Iran's nuclear program must be extended until the regime conclusively demonstrates that it has no interest in a nuclear weapons program," while "diplomacy with Iran must limit not only the production of nuclear material but also ensure that Iran cannot develop a nuclear-capable ballistic missile."
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that the ideas put forward in the letter are "very consistent" with the approach laid out by the Biden administration concerning re-engagement with Iran. Waltz, the primary Republican signee of the letter, said following Price's comments that "we are NOT on the same page. We need to see these demands put forward and Iran held directly accountable for killing and imprisoning Americans."
The letter cites examples of Iran's malign behavior in the region, saying it "sowed chaos in Syria and Yemen, continued to arm Hezbollah and worked to provide the terrorist group with precision guided missiles to attack Israel, and backed forces in Iraq that have targeted American troops and worked to undermine the Iraqi government, taken American citizens prisoner, and committed human rights violations."
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential pro-Israel organization in Washington, publicly commended the lawmakers who signed onto the letter. Notable Democratic lawmakers to have signed include Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Elaine Luria, Kathy Manning, Ted Lieu, Brendan Boyle, Josh Gottheimer, Lois Frankel, Andy Kim, Conor Lamb, and Ritchie Torres.
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"This letter was sold to lawmakers as being consistent with the Biden Administration's approach to a compliance-for-compliance return to the JCPOA. Now that it's closed, it's being touted by JCPOA opponents as indicating that signers believe any agreement with Iran must go beyond the scope of the JCPOA," J Street's chief lobbyist Dylan Williams said.
"The letter's vague language leaves it open to such varying interpretations makes clear the letter's intent to muddy support for President Biden's approach among House lawmakers from his own party, 150 of whom spoke clearly and unambiguously in an earlier letter in support of first restoring the JCPOA and then building on it through further agreements," he added.
Iran has recently accelerated its violations of restrictions under the 2015 nuclear deal, which granted it relief from financial sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear activities.
The Biden administration's bid for diplomacy has been overshadowed in recent weeks, as Iran-backed militia fired rockets on U.S. forces in Iraq, triggereing concerns about escalation.