131 members of the House, including 114 Democrats--a majority of the conference in the House--and 17 Republicans, have signed a letter to Barack Obama asking the president to engage with the newly elected president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. Read the text of the letter below:
Dear President Obama,
As Members of Congress who share your unequivocal commitment to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, we urge you to pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran's recent presidential election by reinvigorating U.S. efforts to secure a negotiated nuclear agreement.
As you know, on June 14 the Iranian people elected Hassan Rouhani president with over 50 percent of the vote in the first round, overcoming repression and intimidation by the Iranian government to cast their ballots in favor of reform. Dr. Rouhani campaigned on the promise to “pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace” and has since promised “constructive interaction with the outside world.” As Iran’s former lead nuclear negotiator, he has also publicly expressed the view that obtaining a nuclear weapon would run counter to Iran’s strategic interests and has been critical of the nuclear “extremism” of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
We are mindful of the limitations of the Iranian presidency within the country’s political system, of the fact that previous Iranian presidents elected on platforms of moderation have failed to deliver on promised reforms, and of the mixed signals that Dr. Rouhani himself has sent regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It remains to be seen whether his election will indeed bring significant change with regard to Iran's relations with the outside world. His government’s actions will certainly speak louder than his words.
Even so, we believe it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that ensures the country does not acquire a nuclear weapon. In order to test this proposition, it will be prudent for the United States to utilize all diplomatic tools to reinvigorate ongoing nuclear talks. In addition, bilateral and multilateral sanctions must be calibrated in such a way that they induce significant and verifiable concessions from Iran at the negotiating table in exchange for their potential relaxation.
We must also be careful not to preempt this potential opportunity by engaging in actions that delegitimize the newly elected president and weaken his standing relative to hardliners within the regime who oppose his professed “policy of reconciliation and peace.” Likewise, it will be critical for the United States to continue its efforts to foster unprecedented international cooperation on this issue so that the international community remains united in its opposition to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.
We look forward to working with your administration on this important issue in the months ahead.
Less than one-tenth of House Republicans signed the letter. The Republican signers were Charlie Dent, John Campbell, Howard Coble, Tom Cole, Sean Duffy, John Duncan, Mike Fitzpatrick, Jeff Fortenberry, Michael Grimm, Richard Hanna, Walter Jones, Richard Nugent, Thomas Petri, Jon Runyan, Glenn Thompson, Patrick Tiberi, and Ed Whitfield.
John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador the United Nations, criticized the letter in an email to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "This letter will play into the hands of the Tehran regime, allowing it yet again to use negotiations to buy time to make progress on its nuclear weapons program," Bolton said.
The letter, which was spearheaded by North Carolina Democrat David Price and Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent, refers to Rouhani as a skeptic about the Iranian nuclear program. It also seems to buy into the portrait of Rouhani as a force for moderation in Iran.
Mr. Rohani spent Iran's revolutionary days as a close companion of the Ayatollah Khomeini and would go on to hold top posts during the Islamic Republic's first two decades in power. For 16 years starting in 1989, Mr. Rohani served as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure on the council, Mr. Rohani led the crackdown on a 1999 student uprising and helped the regime evade Western scrutiny of its nuclear-weapons program.
As Mr. Rohani said at a pro-regime rally in July 1999: "At dusk yesterday we received a decisive revolutionary order to crush mercilessly and monumentally any move of these opportunist elements wherever it may occur. From today our people shall witness how in the arena our law enforcement force . . . shall deal with these opportunists and riotous elements, if they simply dare to show their faces."...
Beyond Iran's borders, Mr. Rohani has largely favored "resistance" and nuclear defiance. During the campaign, he boasted of how during his tenure as negotiator Iran didn't suspend enrichment—on the contrary, "we completed the program." And on Syria, expect Mr. Rohani to back the ruling establishment's pro-Assad policy. "Syria has constantly been on the front line of fighting Zionism and this resistance must not be weakened," he declared in January, according to the state-run Press TV.
And in a recent issue of the STANDARD, Reuel Marc Gerecht notes Rouhani's past writings on Iran's nuclear program. "In his writings, Rouhani has confessed candidly that negotiations for him were designed to split Iran’s adversaries while advancing the nuclear program," Gerecht wrote. "Since 2005, when his two years as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator ended, Rouhani has spent much time defending his work, arguing that Iran’s atomic quest could have advanced with less economic damage if he had been in charge. He still defends his successful effort to convince the supreme leader to do something he didn’t want to do—temporarily suspend uranium enrichment—in 2004."
At a time when many experts believe only the real threat of military force can now stall the Iranian nuclear program, it will be interesting to see if Obama administration policy moves along the lines of this letter or whether the administration is willing to increase pressure on the regime to its nuclear weapons program.