A group of Senate Democrats led by Senator Robert Menendez (D – N.J.) effectively gave the Obama administration a deadline to achieve an agreement that would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In a letter to the White House, the senators expressed support for legislation that would toughen diplomacy against Iran if the Islamic Republic fails to agree to a political framework agreement over its nuclear program in two months’ time. The legislation in question is the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, known as the Kirk-Menendez bill, and is co-sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk (R – Ill.).
Menendez’ office released the following statement in explaining the impetus for writing the letter to President Barack Obama.
“This morning … many of my Democratic colleagues and I sent a letter to the president telling him that we will not support passage of the Kirk-Menendez bill on the Senate floor until after March 24, and only if there is no political framework agreement because, as the letter states, we remain hopeful that diplomacy will succeed in reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability in accordance with the timeline that the P5+1 and Iran negotiating teams have set for themselves.”
“We also say in this letter that we remain deeply skeptical that Iran is committed to making the concessions required to demonstrate to the world that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful by March 24th The fact is that negotiators are now in their 18th month of talking.”
“Without prospective sanctions that are ready to be implemented, our only option may very well be what some of my friends are worried about, either a military one or accepting Iran as a nuclear weapon state. Neither are desirable.”
According to The Hill, the other Democratic senators signing onto the letter are Charles Schumer (D – N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn.), Gary Peters (D – Mich.), Bob Casey Jr. (D – Pa.), Ben Cardin (D – Md.), Chris Coons (D – Del.), Joe Manchin (D – W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D -Ind.), and Debbie Stabenow (D – Mich.). The senators from Michigan were not sponsors of previous versions of the bill.
Politico posted a copy of the letter (.pdf) that was authored by Menendez who used the deadline of March 24 for a negotiated political framework agreement as the time for introducing legislation to toughen the administration’s diplomacy. The letter noted that “after two extensions of the Joint Plan of Action, we are concerned that Iran is intentionally extending the negotiations to improve its leverage at the negotiating table.”
A number of Democratic senators who signed the letter are also reported to be signing on as co-sponsors of the Kirk-Menendez legislation, including Schumer, Blumenthal and Peters.
Strong Democratic support for tougher diplomacy with Iran makes it increasingly likely that the Senate would override Obama’s threatened veto of the legislation.
[Photo: SenatorMenendezNJ / YouTube ]