More than four-fifths of the U.S. Senate is urging President Obama to help lawmakers prepare for nuclear talks with Iran to end -- with or without a deal.
"Should an acceptable final agreement be reached, your administration will need to work together with Congress to enact implementing legislation to provide longer-term sanctions relief," a bipartisan group of 83 senators told the White House in a letter on Tuesday. "Should negotiations fail or Iran violate the [interim] Joint Plan of Action, Congress will need to ensure that the legislative authority exists to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions."
"We need to work together now to prepare for either eventuality," according to the group, which included strong majorities from both political parties plus one independent lawmaker.
The senators issued their admonition as Iran joined the United States and five other world powers for a new round of discussions on the Middle Eastern nation's disputed nuclear activities. The sides plan to hold a succession of senior-level meetings in coming months in an effort to address fears that Iran's atomic activities are aimed, in part, at establishing a nuclear-bomb capacity.
Tehran insists its nuclear goals have always been strictly peaceful, and is seeking permanent relief from international sanctions in exchange for potential steps to assure other governments that its activities are nonmilitary in nature. In the "joint plan" finalized in November, the Persian Gulf regional power agreed to comply with a range of temporary nuclear restrictions in exchange for a short-term easing of economic sanctions.
"Iran must clearly understand the consequences of failing to reach an acceptable final agreement," according to the letter, which advises the Obama administration to uphold a number of specific demands on Iran's nuclear work. "We must signal unequivocally to Iran that rejecting negotiations and continuing its nuclear weapon program will lead to much more dramatic sanctions, including further limitations on Iran's exports of crude oil and petroleum products."
The letter's signatories included Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who co-authored draft legislation that would automatically impose new sanctions on Iran if the nation does not agree to specific measures under a potential comprehensive nuclear accord. President Obama has threatened to veto the measure, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- one of 18 senators who did not sign the Tuesday letter -- has prevented Senate floor consideration of the proposal on a stand-alone basis.