If Iran wants to continue accelerating its nuclear program, senators say the Obama administration has an obligation to take harsher diplomatic actions to deter them, and fast.
In a letter to President Barack Obama released Monday, 76 senators called on the White House to toughen sanctions and look at using military force to stop Iran from building up its nuclear arsenal.
The bipartisan effort is being led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Bob Casey, D-Pa.
"Mr. President, we urge you to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process. We need to understand quickly whether Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously," senators wrote in the letter. "Iran needs to understand that the time for diplomacy is nearing its end."
Iran's newly inaugurated President Hasan Rouhani has pledged to be more moderate than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has also promised to be more transparent and forthcoming about his country's nuclear plans. In his inauguration speech Sunday, Rouhani asked the U.S. and other western countries to stop with the sanctions.
"The only way to interact with Iran is to have dialogue from an equal position, creating mutual trust and respect and reducing enmities," Rouhani said. "Let me state it clearly that if you want a positive response, talk to Iran, not with a language of sanctions but a language of respect."
The Senate's letter took a much harsher tone than a bipartisan one sent by more than 130 House members in July calling on Obama to give Rouhani a chance and a clean slate.
"[W]e 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," the House letter read. "In order to test this proposition, it will be prudent for the United States to utilize all diplomatic tools to reinvigorate ongoing nuclear talks."
Of course, the Obama administration will have the final say in how the relationship with Iran evolves. Signaling a careful willingness, the White House released a firm, but congratulatory statement Sunday to the new leader.
"The inauguration of President Rouhani presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community's deep concerns over Iran's nuclear program," the White House statement said. "Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States."