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73 Senators sign AIPAC-backed letter urging continued Iran restrictions

JTA

December 21, 2012 | 11:36 am

A letter backed by AIPAC urging President Obama to keep up pressure on Iran even as he negotiates with the regime garnered signatures from 73 U.S. Senators.

"We strongly believe there should be absolutely no diminution of pressure on the Iranians until the totality of their nuclear program has been addressed," reads the letter, initiated by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and signed by another 70 senators. "The time for limited confidence-building measures is over."

The letter, sent Thursday and backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, says the senators "remain very skeptical of any proposal that would allow the current Iranian government to possess an enrichment capability in any form, given its long track record of deceptive and illicit conduct."

A press release casts the letter in the context of reports that the United States, together with the other major powers negotiating with Iran, is prepared to relaunch talks.

"A bipartisan supermajority of Senators today sent a letter to President Obama laying out four steps that they urge the Administration to take, as it prepares for the possible resumption of nuclear negotiations with Iran," said a statement from Menendez's office.

Many of the postures the letter recommends contradict opening gambits leaked to the press over recent weeks -- including lifting restrictions on civilian aircraft parts in exchange for verifiable freezes in enrichment activity, as well as a longstanding Western offer to consider allowing minimal enrichment for civilian purposes in exchange for a verifiable end to the weapons program.

Other measures recommended in the letter roughly correspond with Obama administration policies, including enhancing existing sanctions and making clear that a military option is still on the table.

A number of senators otherwise notable for their closeness to the pro-Israel community did not sign the letter, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Also not signing were Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the body's majority leader, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), its Foreign Relations Committee chairman and a likely contender to be secretary of state in Obama's second term.

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