By Deirdre Walsh
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, blasted as "irresponsible" comments by Obama administration officials who have suggested that lawmakers pushing for tighter sanctions on Iran are increasing the risk of war.
Hoyer, of Maryland, didn't name names, but an aide said he was referring to several comments from various officials over the past month.
The New York Times quoted Obama's deputy national security adviser, Benjamin Rhodes, on the subject on Tuesday.
"It just stands to reason if you close the diplomatic option, you're left with a difficult choice of waiting to see if sanctions cause Iran to capitulate, which we don't think will happen, or considering military action," Rhodes said, according to the paper.
Hoyer bristled at any notion support for stronger sanctions equals a push for war.
"I think that is absolutely untrue - an irresponsible assertion and ought to be clarified and retracted by those who have made it with the administration."
"Nobody believes, as far as I know, that going to war with Iran is anything but a dangerous and objective that none of us would seek," Hoyer said.
Hoyer has previously expressed concerns with a six-month agreement the United States and other world powers struck with Iran in November to curb its nuclear ambitions in return for easing up on some economic sanctions that have hurt its economy.
Late last year, Hoyer was in discussions with
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor about a bipartisan Iran resolution in the House.
That effort fell apart shortly before they were going to schedule a vote, according to several congressional sources.
Senate Democratic leaders are wrestling with how to move forward on a bipartisan proposal to impose new sanctions on Iran, if it doesn't live up to terms of the interim agreement due to take effect on January 20.
The Obama administration has argued strenuously against such a step, saying it could complicate negotiations on a longer-term deal on Iran's nuclear ambitions.
House Republican leaders are considering putting the Senate measure on floor for a vote, according to a top House GOP leadership aide.
Hoyer said he's watching closely to see how Iran complies with an upcoming deadline in the current agreement, but he said he's opposed to a House vote on the Senate measure.
He noted the House already passed a bipartisan bill last summer that still awaits Senate action.