WASHINGTON – Twelve House Democrats and twelve House Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week arguing that the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran did not sufficiently ensure that the Islamic Republic could never obtain a nuclear weapon.
"We urge you to work with our allies and consult with Congress in a bipartisan and bicameral fashion to outline a better, comprehensive deal with Iran that would block its path to a nuclear weapon and blunt its global malign activities," the letter reads.
"Going forward, the administration should make use of existing leverage to sharpen the choices available to Tehran," the lawmakers continued. "The world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism must be held accountable for its nuclear enrichment and undermining regional peace and stability."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-Texas,10th District) and Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey, 5th District) led the letter.
"I think we have the upper hand here, and we shouldn't allow them to threaten the United States or our allies," Gottheimer told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Monday.
"I think we need to continue to tighten the grip. And yes, they're going to lash out – but we, as we've seen, will respond in kind," he said, adding that "I don't think the Iranians have a lot of good options. And obviously, under the right conditions, we can open conversations and discussions with them."
Gottheimer said that the maximum pressure campaign has been an effective strategy against the Iranians. "We need to keep up the maximum pressure sanctions regime," he said. "I think they've been successful in putting pressure on the Iranians. It's crippled the Iranian economy and it's made it clear to the Iranians that we will not accept their aggressive nuclear program or terror program."
LAST WEEK, Secretary Blinken testified at the House Foreign Affairs Committee and vowed not to give Iran any concessions.
"Obviously, I was pleased to hear the secretary testify as such," Gottheimer said. "Iran has clearly demonstrated an unwillingness to show good faith when it comes to their nuclear program or their terror program, or just their recent actions or [those of] their proxies."They have consistently failed to demonstrate a willingness to comply. So as far as I'm concerned, they're only going to respond to strength," he said.
"I think that there are certain pockets in the Democratic Party that are willing to take a more trusting approach, and I think we need to take a more hardline approach against Iran and give the United States the tools to drive a hard bargain in any negotiations going forward," he added.
Gottheimer also called on the administration to closely consult with Israel. "We need to make sure that the United States knows that there are many of us in Congress who stand with them with a strong posture, with tough sanctions against a harbor of terror and a country that has failed to show any good faith measures except to threaten our allies and our country," he said.
"You can't move right back into the JCPOA," the congressman added. "We need to be vigilant on new sanctions and be prepared. I'm always for seeking a diplomatic channel if one is available, and I think we should. But I think the deal is going to have to look different than JCPOA, which I was opposed to."
REP. MCCAUL, who led the letter with Gottheimer, told the Post that "Congress feels very strongly about ensuring the Biden Administration holds a hard line against Iran, given the national security implications should the administration continue to make concessions to the regime.
"Congress has the responsibility to conduct oversight of the administration's foreign policy on behalf of Americans – and given the history of sanctions relief with Iran, we must make sure the American people have a voice in any proposal with serious national security implications," he said.
He praised the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign on Iran and said that it cost the regime over $70 billion in oil revenue, "creating leverage for the Biden administration to secure a better deal."
"They must use that to their advantage," said McCaul. "A new deal must not include sunset clauses; it must allow the IAEA access to all nuclear sites, stop Iran's ballistic missile development, end Iran's support for terrorism and call for the release of all hostages illegally held in Iran."
FOLLOWING BLINKEN'S announcement that Washington is ready to engage diplomatically with Tehran, several members of Congress led similar measures, calling on the administration to seek a comprehensive agreement that addresses the regime's ballistic missiles program and sponsorship of terrorism as a part of any future agreement.
Last week, a bipartisan group of 140 members of Congress – 70 Democrats and 70 Republicans – sent a letter to Blinken, requesting him that any future agreement with the Islamic Republic would address "the comprehensive range of threats that Iran poses to the Middle East region."
"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," they wrote. "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. We recognize that there is not a singular diplomatic path forward on these objectives and we look forward to working with you as partners to achieve lasting peace in the region."
The legislators noted that Iran has continued to test ballistic missile technology, "funded and supported terrorism throughout the Middle East, and engaged in cyberattacks to disrupt the global economy."
Additional initiatives aimed at giving Congress oversight over a future deal. Rep. Andy Barr (R-Kentucky, 6th District) introduced a bill last week seeking to deprive any funds to the State Department or the executive branch for purposes of renegotiating the JCPOA without first submitting it to the US Senate as a treaty, triggering the advice and consent and the oversight that comes with that.
In a conversation with the Post, Barr said that the new legislation is not a symbolic move but rather a substantive way to increase the ability of Congress to review the agreement.
"It's not symbolism; it's intended to be a very substantive legislative proposal, and I'm going to be asking a question related to it to Secretary Blinken and the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week," said Barr, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.