Some Reactions from Congress to Obama-Rouhani Phone Call

by Marsha B. Cohen

Several members of the House and Senate have responded to Friday’s historic 15-minute phone conversation between Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani. In addition to the general sense of discontent that’s been conveyed by all but 1 person are calls for ever more pressure:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA):

I am concerned that President Obama did not press Iranian President Rouhani to halt Iran’s ongoing support for radical Islamic terrorism, its repeated violations of U.N. and IAEA resolutions, and its support of Bashar Assad’s war against the Syrian people. These topics were not publicly addressed by the President today, but require his urgent attention. Iran’s government remains — in spite of President Rouhani’s rhetoric — a brutal, repressive theocracy. It is particularly unfortunate that President Obama would recognize the Iranian people’s right to nuclear energy but not stand up for their right to freedom, human rights, or democracy. The President suggests there is ‘new leadership’ in Iran, yet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei remains the true ruler in Tehran, and we are only fooling ourselves when we suggest otherwise.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC):

Our damaging sanctions have gotten Rouhani on the phone.  We must increase the economic pressure until Iran stops its nuclear drive.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman, HFAC Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa:

There’s a reason why the United States for three decades has not maintained diplomatic relations with Iran. It’s a State Sponsor of Terrorism that is responsible for the deaths of Americans, is one of the world’s worst human rights violators, and has continued to develop nuclear weapons. Reaching out to Rouhani and giving him credibility on the world stage will only further embolden the regime to continue its crackdown on its citizens and will buy it more time to complete its nuclear weapons program – exactly what Rouhani’s charm offensive had planned. This is the same man who bragged about deceiving the West in order to buy more time to continue and expand its nuclear program while he served as chief nuclear negotiator for Iran a decade ago, and he cannot be trusted.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), “Iran’s Messenger has Changed; Its Messenger has Not,” op-ed, Washington Post (excerpt):

As proponents of a series of bipartisan bills legislating sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking industries and lawmakers who have worked with our European allies to isolate Iran from international financial markets, we understand full well the result of crippling sanctions.

Iran expressed an interest in negotiations because the economic pain levied on it by Congress and the international community has become unbearable. This outreach was borne out of necessity, not a sudden gesture of goodwill….

We believe that four strategic elements are necessary to achieve a resolution of this issue: an explicit and continuing message that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, the maintenance and toughening of sanctions and a convincing threat of the use of force.

The national security implications of a nuclear Iran are unimaginable — threatening the very existence of our ally Israel, as well as launching an all-but-certain nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region. Diplomacy is our hope, but the U.S. resolve to take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state will not be compromised.

In the coming days, we will be outspoken in our support for furthering sanctions against Iran, requiring countries to again reduce their purchases of Iranian petroleum and imposing further prohibitions on strategic sectors of the Iranian economy.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), press release:

This week, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) filed a resolution, S. Res. 252, in recognition of President Obama’s offer to meet with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly and the one-year anniversary of Iran’s imprisonment of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen.

The resolution states that it is the sense of the Senate that before any future meeting between President Obama and President Rouhani, the Government of Iran should affirm the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, and also immediately and without conditions release all United States citizens unjustly detained as prisoners of conscience in Iran.

After the revelation Friday afternoon that President Obama had engaged in a telephone conversation with President Rouhani, Senator Cruz said:

“I commend President Obama for raising Pastor Abedini* in his conversation with President Rouhani; he did the right thing. Now this resolution is all the more necessary to keep pressure on Iran to take real action on this issue. Congress needs to send a strong signal that direct communication with the leader of the free world is a privilege, particularly for a regime that has been as hostile as Iran has been towards America for more than three decades. President Rouhani needs to take these two simple steps to demonstrate good faith before any further discussions.”

*Saeed Abedini is an Iranian-born convert to Christianity from Islam. He married an American citizen in 2002, two years after his conversion. He became an ordained minister in the U.S. in 2008 and an American citizen in 2010. Like many Muslim countries, Iran prohibits missionary activity by other faiths. Detained in 2009 while visiting his family, Abedini was released after signing an agreement to desist from his missionary activities. Returning to the U.S., he made several trips to Iran in the next three years, and was arrested and imprisoned during a visit in July 2012. In January 2013, he was tried and sentenced to 8 years in prison. During his phone call with Rouhani, Obama discussed Abedini’s case and those of two other Americans held in Iran: Robert Levinson and Amir Hekmati.

Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN):

President Obama and President Rouhani should be commended for taking the bold step yesterday to reestablish dialogue between the United States and Iran. I have long supported renewed diplomatic contact with Iran and last month called for an Obama-Rouhani summit. Both leaders should be congratulated for breaking the 34-year impasse between our countries.  For too long, a lack of dialogue and outright antagonism have characterized U.S.-Iranian relations. The differences between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran are well known.   Now the door has opened for the opportunity that constructive dialogue will bring.  Iran is an extremely important country in the region and in the world.   In addition to negotiations on the nuclear issue, I hope we can build upon this diplomatic opening to address the war in Syria and sectarianism across the region.

Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


One Comment

  1. One person out of those above, reads positive, while the others just parrot the scripts provided by AIPAC. Those others provided a laundry list for the U.S. to impose on Iran, but didn’t add any ways to achieve the desired end result, that of rapprochement in a meaningful way. Tighten the screws, bleed Iran until it cry’s uncle, but we all know that way won’t work or satisfy Israel/AIPAC. There is a far bigger picture in play here, besides just little Israel who chose to play in the middle of a hostile M.E. to the ways of the bully. Time to change, whether Israel likes it or not. To keep up this farce, keeping the World in a state of anxiety, has to end.

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