Top House Dems back Iran engagement


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A group of seven leading House Democrats called on President Obama to take "urgent action" to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

In a letter to the president, members of the U.S. Congress including the majority leader of the House of Representatives and chairmen of some of its top committees backed Obama’s effort to engage Iran but stressed that it "cannot be open-ended" and that talks must begin "as soon as possible."

"We cannot allow Iran to use diplomatic discussions as a cover for continuing to work on its nuclear program," said the letter, dated March 26. "Iran must verifiably suspend its uranium enrichment program within at most a few months of the initiation of discussions."

The missive suggests examples of sanctions that could be used if talks fail, including on the Central Bank of Iran and energy companies investing in Iran’s oil and gas sector, as well as measures that U.S. allies could take against the Iranian regime.

The signatories includes Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland; California Reps. Howard Berman and Henry Waxman, the Foreign Affairs Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee chairmen, respectively; Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the Intelligence Committee chairman; Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, the Armed Service Committee chairman; New York Rep. Gary Ackerman, the Foreign Affairs Middle East and South Asia subcommittee; and Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, a close Obama ally and chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe.

"We must use the time available to us to begin engagement and to convince the Iranians of our seriousness of purpose," the letter said. "Otherwise, we will face far more difficult decisions in the future."

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