US senators urge Obama to impose tougher sanctions on Iran

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Seventy-six United States senators have urged President Barack Obama to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, saying Washington must stress its military option even as new President Hassan Rohani urges dialogue.

"Mr President, we urge you to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process," said the letter, publicised on Monday by authors Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

"We need to understand quickly whether Teheran is at last ready to negotiate seriously" on its nuclear programme," it said.

Another 74 senators signed the letter, which was sent to the White House on Friday, two days before Mr Rohani was sworn in in Teheran.

The reputed moderate once served as Iran's nuclear negotiator, and the West is hoping that he will take a more constructive approach in long-running talks on Teheran's controversial nuclear drive.

Despite Iranian denials, the West is convinced Teheran is pursuing a nuclear bomb.

"Iran has used negotiations in the past to stall for time, and in any event, (supreme leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei is the ultimate decision-maker for Iran's nuclear programme," the senators wrote to Mr Obama.

"Iran needs to understand that the time for diplomacy is nearing its end. We implore you to demand immediate serious moves on Iran's part."

The White House said on Sunday that Iran will find the US a "willing partner" if Mr Rohani is prepared for serious nuclear talks.

Last week, shortly before Congress went on a summer break, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved harsh new sanctions aimed at drastically reducing Iran's oil exports by ending purchasing exemptions to countries like China and Japan.

The recess window is being seen as a pivotal period for both the White House and Iran.

A Senate official told Agence France-Presse that after the August recess the Senate Banking Committee aims to introduce legislation on further sanctions against the Islamic republic.

"Our nation must toughen sanctions and reinforce the credibility of our option to use military force," the senators wrote.

"We must be prepared to act, and Iran must see that we are prepared."

Mr Rohani inherits a turbulent nation that is struggling economically, largely due to crippling sanctions already on the books.

But he insisted on Sunday that "if you want a proper answer, do not speak with Iran with the language of sanctions but with the language of respect".