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House sends another bipartisan letter on Iran to Blinken

The letter, spearheaded by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), advocates for an aggressive approach to dealing with Iran

Mark C. Olsen, Ed Schipul

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)

Two dozen members of the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), sent a bipartisan letter today calling for continued pressure on Iran to Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

The letter, which has 12 signatories from each party, comes on the heels of another bipartisan letter addressing similar issues concerning Iran’s nuclear program sent to Blinken earlier this week. That letter, which had 140 signatures, was organized by Reps. Anthony Brown (D-MD) and Michael Waltz (R-FL).

Republican signatories on the new letter include Reps. John Katko (R-NY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Ann Wagner (R-MI), David Kustoff (R-TN), Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Tom Reed (R-NY). Democratic signatories include Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Elaine Luria (D-VA).

Both Luria and Gottheimer have also taken action inside Congress, introducing a bipartisan resolution on Wednesday condemning Iran’s nuclear program.

This latest letter, amid a wave of at least four congressional letters addressing the Iranian nuclear threat, argues that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “did not sufficiently ensure Iran could never obtain a nuclear weapon” and calls on Blinken to work with U.S. allies — particularly Israel — and Congress to “outline a better, comprehensive deal with Iran” that would address both its nuclear program and other malign activities.

It specifically spotlights multiple issues with the original agreement including sunset clauses and Iran’s moves to restrict the International Atomic Energy Agency’s access to its nuclear sites. It further highlights that the original deal did not tackle Iran’s ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, illicit financial practices and human rights abuses.

The letter calls for the Biden administration to keep in place U.S. sanctions on Iran — and praises the president for the recent decision to strike Iranian proxies in Syria. 

“The world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism must be held accountable for its nuclear enrichment and undermining regional peace and stability,” the letter reads. “We appreciate the steps you have already taken to do so by ordering a targeted military strike against a facility used by Iran-backed militia groups in eastern Syria, following escalating attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq.”

In an interview with Jewish Insider on Thursday afternoon, Gottheimer said he supports further strengthening sanctions against Iran. The New Jersey congressman encouraged the Biden administration to approach Iran from a “position of strength” both through diplomatic channels and by carrying out other retaliatory strikes against Iranian targets when appropriate.

“This letter really encourages the United States to drive a hard bargain with Iran in any negotiations going forward,” Gottheimer said. “This is about protecting the United States and our allies and standing strong against a country that has failed to show any good-faith measures for the last years and has been a significant harborer of terror.”

“Keeping a nuclear weapon out of the ayatollah’s hands is not a Republican priority or a Democrat priority – it’s an American priority,” McCaul told JI. “President Trump’s crippling sanctions give President Biden leverage he should not squander. Instead, the Biden administration should work with Congress and our allies to put together a better, more comprehensive deal than the JCPOA that will ensure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon while addressing its others malicious threats.” 

The letter’s signatories also note that Iran’s strikes on U.S. forces continued after Biden withdrew travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats at the U.N.

“We have taken measures of good faith, this administration has, and we should just understand the actor we’re dealing with here,” Gottheimer said.

Although Iran has continued its nuclear enrichment, its support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program and its other provocations in the Middle East under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions regime, Gottheimer said that the sanctions have been effective in crippling the Iranian economy.

“They’re desperate to show their citizens that they haven’t lost face,” he said of Iran’s leaders. “But I think the country as a whole, their economy and their military has been enormously weakened. That’s not to say they aren’t going to lash out — they will — but also they understand that we will respond in kind, and we have.”

Before the U.S. returns to negotiations with Iran, Gottheimer said the Iranian regime must draw back its nuclear activities into compliance with the JCPOA. He also wants any future agreement to encompass all of Iran’s malign activities.

“Under the right conditions, we can open a conversation,” he said. “The question is are they willing to take those steps. They don’t have a lot of good choices, the Iranians.”

All but three signatories on the latest letter — McCaul, Kinzinger, and Kustoff —  signed the Waltz-Brown letter earlier this week. Waltz told reporters during a press call on Tuesday that several additional Republicans had sought to sign onto that letter, but were not able to do so, in the interest of keeping the number of signatories from each party even. The three Republicans did not provide comment to JI on why they signed this letter, but not the previous one.

When asked why he signed onto both letters, Gottheimer told JI, “You can’t speak strongly enough and often enough about the importance of standing strong against Iran, which continues to fall behind on any kind of compliance.”