131 House members sign letter supporting U.S. diplomacy with Iran (Updated)

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Updated 7/19:

Some 131 House members have signed onto a bipartisan letter calling on President Obama to try to advance opportunities for a diplomatic resolution with Iran in the wake of the election of Hassan Rouhani last month.

The letter, being circulated by Representatives David Price (D-North Carolina) and Charles Dent (R-Pennsylvania), is the biggest ever pro-Iran diplomacy letter from the Hill, those supporting the initiative said.

Shawn Millan, a spokesperson for Rep. Dent's office, told the Back Channel the letter had gotten 131 House members to sign on as of Friday afternoon, 17 of them Republican, 114 of them Democratic. (Full list of signatories below the jump.)

“This is not the first time that Iran has elected a president on a platform of moderation and reform, and history advises us to be cautious about the prospects for meaningful change,” the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter signed by Reps. Price and Dent states.

“Even so, given the stakes involved for the United States, Israel, and the international community, it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a genuine opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Price and Dent wrote.

Though the letter doesn't take a position on sanctions or the possible use of military force by the United States or its allies, it cautions that “we must also be careful not to foreclose the possibility of such progress by taking provocative actions that could weaken the newly elected president’s standing relative to Iran’s hardliners.” It also says that while members may have different views about those issues, “we should all be able to agree on the need for a renewed diplomatic push as part of our broader strategy toward Iran.”

The United States expects nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 to resume in the fall, following Rouhani's inauguration next month and the appointment of a new Iranian nuclear negotiating team, a senior US official said last week.

Meantime, former US diplomats William Luers and Thomas Pickering this week urged Obama to consider sending Rouhani a note of congratulations upon his inauguration, in a piece advocating ways the U.S. could try to reinvigorate diplomacy with Iran.

“Pressure has helped get Iran to negotiate; but diplomatic negotiation cannot succeed unless each side gets some of what it needs and unless each side comes to believe that the other wants an agreement and is willing to comply with it,” Luers, Pickering and MIT's Jim Walsh wrote, at the New York Review of Books. “With innovative and assertive diplomacy, the Obama administration can, in our view, still help change the direction of US–Iran relations, reach an interim nuclear agreement, and possibly open the door to discussions on other regional and bilateral issues.”

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Iran Seeks Sustained Dialogue

Barbara Slavin reports:

As Iran and world powers agreed to continue talking, Iranian officials put forward a detailed explanation of their point of view including a proposal for high-level negotiations every three months.

A 10-page document (.pdf) given Tuesday (July 3) to Iran experts by Iran’s mission to the United Nations also calls for lifting all sanctions against Iran and a framework for “comprehensive and targeted dialogue for long term cooperation” that goes beyond the nuclear issue. It includes elements of a bigger bargain normalizing Iran’s status in the international community.

Among four “objectives” for the proposed dialogue, sanctions relief is listed first. The goal, the paper says, is “to normalize Iran’s nuclear file in the UN Security Council and in the [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors by total termination of the UNSC, unilateral and multilateral sanctions against Iran.”

The priority is not surprising given the fact that draconian new sanctions went into effect July 1 that bar European countries from importing Iranian oil and insuring Iranian oil shipments to others. Iran also faces sanctions under four UN resolutions and a raft of unilateral US penalties. Its oil exports have dropped by a million barrels a day since last year and historic rival Iraq is now pumping more oil. While Iran is practiced in adapting to sanctions, its people are struggling to deal with a collapsed currency and inflation of more than 30 percent.

In addition to sanctions relief, Iran wants recognition of its right to enrich uranium in exchange for continuing to fulfill its obligations to keep its nuclear program open to international inspections.

Iran also seeks cooperation on nuclear safety and newer nuclear technology than a half-century old Tehran reactor that makes medical isotopes and a hodge-podge Russian-German nuclear power plant at Bushehr that has yet to become fully operational. Continue reading