WASHINGTON — Support for increasing sanctions on Iran seemed entrenched in the lower chamber of Congress on Wednesday as most members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed support for tough sanctions and skepticism about nuclear talks during a hearing timed to coincide with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's 100th day in office.
In his opening statement, committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce argued that "sanctions have forced Iran to the table; we should build upon this success with additional measures — like those now pending in the Senate — to compel Iran to make meaningful and lasting concessions."
"The Iranian regime hasn't paused its nuclear program, why should we pause our sanctions efforts, as the administration is pressuring Congress to do?" Royce said.
Ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel, one of the most hawkish Democratic members on the issue of Iran, also argued against easing sanctions in his opening statement.
"This intense pressure brought Iran back to the negotiating table, and it must be maintained – and strengthened if necessary -- until Iran has taken verifiable steps to freeze and even dismantle its nuclear weapons program," Engel argued.
Rank-and-file members from both parties also said they supported more sanctions and some criticized the administration for even negotiating with Iran at all.
"We are going in exactly the wrong direction with Iran right now," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. "This overly optimistic round of negotiations have left us with nothing."
"I get so upset over the fact that this administration thinks if they put heir arms around these terrorists they're going to sing kumbaya and everything's going to be fine," said Rep. Tom Marino.
"Vive la France!" said Rep. Juan Vargas, in a reference to reports that France's opposition to a draft deal in the last round of talks in Geneva prevented the negotiating parties from coming to an agreement.
"I urge our Senate colleagues to continue to advance on sanctions legislation, because the crushing economic sanctions are forcing the Iranians to the negotiating table," said Rep. Ted Deutch.
The administration has been pressuring Congress to hold off on a new round of Iran sanctions until after the completion of nuclear negotiations. President Obama and Vice President Biden have been personally calling senators to ask them to delay new sanctions legislation that is currently in committee. Senate Banking Committee chairman Tim Johnson will wait to decide whether to pursue the new bill until after Secretary of State John Kerry briefs the committee on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Royce said the measure being considered in the Senate Banking Committee was seen as the "most direct" way for the legislation he authored with Engel to move through the Senate.
"Now we have a situation where the Secretary of State is meeting with Senate Banking asking them not to bring up our measure, which we feel would bring additional pressure on the regime in Iran in order to force that regime to comply with the basic strategy necessary to at least stop the centrifuges from spinning," Royce said.