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  • 27 February 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Partisanship at Its Worst

Less than a month ago, Senator Menendez [D-NJ] conceded in a floor speech that his new Iran sanctions bill, S. 1881, should not be brought to the floor after 42 Republican Senators demanded a vote. “I hope that we will not find ourselves in a partisan process trying to force a vote on this national security matter before its appropriate time,” said Menendez at the time.

This is a good thing considering that we now know that one of the key claims of AIPAC and other supporters was not true. They said that the bill would  require sanctions be imposed, in violation of the preliminary nuclear deal with Iran, only if Iran first violated the deal. But in reality, the bill would have imposed sanctions for a variety of actions beyond what was required in that deal. And Republican staffer  recently admitted as much, telling Wall Street Journal, “Had our bill been in law, the latest [Iranian ballistic missile] tests would have triggered a re-imposition of sanctions.” So Republicans are beginning to acknowledge that the mantra of “the sanctions will be imposed only if the talks fail” was thoroughly misleading.

One would think that the discussion was finally put to rest, that sanctions were not the answer, and that we could now focus our attention to achieving a pragmatic, realistic, and concrete deal with Iran.

However, just this past Monday, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) blocked a bid to vote on bills to combat sexual assault in the military, demanding a vote on S. 1881 in return for allowing the Senate to debate an issue which affects about 26,000 men and women in the military per year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated it most diplomatically when he said, “I’m terribly disappointed that my Republican friends are trying to turn this vital national security concern into a partisan issue by trying to inject [it] into a setting where it’s clearly not relevant.”

Feinstein Delivers Strong Defense of Diplomacy on Senate Floor

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) added to her credentials as a champion of diplomacy with Iran with a remarkable speech on the floor of the Senate last night. Sen. Feinstein warned that S.1881, a sanctions bill from Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that has garnered 59 cosponsors, would “collapse negotiations” and be a “march toward war.”

Her speech came at a critical time. On Sunday, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to implement the first phase nuclear deal struck in November. Further, a number of Senators are voicing their strong opposition to the new Iran sanctions, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Despite the growing opposition, the bill still retains the support of a majority of U.S. Senators.

Feinstein began her speech by noting that countries can change direction, citing the examples of post-war Germany and Japan, Spain, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and South Africa. Further, she noted that several nations have abandoned the pursuit of nuclear weapons, including Sweden, Argentina and South Korea. Citing robust diplomatic engagement and steps to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Feinstein suggested that Iran could be on the cusp of a similar change “and that it is the job of diplomay to push for that change.”

Feinstein highlighted the strong security benefits of the first phase nuclear deal, including that it will require Iran to cap its enrichment at 5% and eliminate its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, all while instituting “the most intrusive international inspection regime ever” to verify compliance.

According to Feinstein, Senate passage of S.1881 would kill the deal and ongoing talks with Iran, “and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior—a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but help change the course of a nation. Its destiny in fact could be changed. “ Further, Senate passage would “play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.”  Those Iranian hardliners would argue that Rouhani and Zarif “exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for additional and harsh punitive sanctions.”

“Above all,” Feinstein added, “they will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy–we are interested in regime change. “ Nuclear negotiations would collapse, Iran’s nuclear program would be unconstrained, and the U.S. would only be left with military options.

Feinstein, citing Secretary of State John Kerry’s formal request that the Senate hold off on new sanctions to allow the negotiators time and space to do their jobs, argued that the Menendez-Kirk bill “is an egregious imposition on the Executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.”

Citing the fact that new sanctions would collapse the agreement, Feinstein asked, “How does that (passing new sanctions) make any kind of common sense? It defies logic, it threatens instant reverse, and it ends what has been unprecedented diplomacy. Do we want to take that on our shoulders? Candidly, in my view, it is a march toward war.”

Sen. Feinstein concluded by stating that the first phase nuclear deal with Iran “is strong, it is tough, and it is realistic. It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three-decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships. It could open the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security, but protects our own. To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S.1881).”

Sen. Feinstein’s strong speech could weaken support for the sanctions bill at a critical time, encouraging other Senators to make their opposition to the bill public. Currently, two dozen Senators have yet to take a formal public position on the bill.

  • 15 January 2014
  • Posted By Arrizu Sirjani
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy

Rep. Blumenauer Calls to Give Diplomacy a Chance


Last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3) delivered another strong statement in support of U.S.-Iran diplomacy, calling for Congress to “calm down and give diplomacy a chance” in response to new Iran sanctions legislation.

Speaking on the House floor,  Rep. Blumenauer extolled the interim agreement with Iran and urged Congress, “Let’s work to make progress with the agreement and beyond.” He suggested, “Congress can do this most importantly, by leaving it alone. Congress shouldn’t mettle. Congress shouldn’t muddle. Congress shouldn’t give Iranian hardliners who do not want any agreement at all an excuse to scuttle it.”

“We have an opportunity to improve the most violate region in the world,” Blumenauer said, “and Congress shouldn’t blow that opportunity.”

  • 9 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Israel, US-Iran War

Hindsight is 20/20

Captain Hindsight on the new Senate sanctions bill

When the White House said that a new sanctions bill (S.1881) would “greatly increase the chances that the United States would have to take military action” against Iran, supporters of the bill bristled. Lead sponsor Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called the statement ”over the top” and accused the White House of “fear mongering.”

But a quick read of his bill makes clear that not only would it torpedo diplomacy by violating the interim deal with new sanctions, it even expresses support for the U.S. joining Israel in bombing Iran! The exact clause in question says, “if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”

If you didn’t want people saying your bill could lead to war with Iran, you probably shouldn’t have pushed a bill that sabotages diplomacy and expressly threatens military engagement with Iran.

>>Don’t let your Senators rely on hindsight, contact them TODAY and tell them to OPPOSE this disastrous bill

  • 9 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, US-Iran War

Cruz-ing Towards Failed Diplomacy

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has become the latest Iran hawk to introduce a measure placing preconditions on negotiations designed to end the Iran talks.

Originally, there were Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, who introduced a Senate bill (S.1881) that has earned a veto threat from the President because it would invalidate the interim deal signed with Iran by passing new sanctions. That bill would also place unworkable demands on any final deal, including requiring full dismantlement of even a verifiable peaceful nuclear program.  And it would pledge U.S. support for Israeli strikes on Iran.

Now, Senator Cruz (R-TX) is joining forces with fellow hard-line conservative Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) to introduce a Senate resolution with their own demands that must be met before any bilateral negotiations continue with Iran.

The first precondition that must be met in Cruz’s world before the U.S. is allowed to engage in talks with Iran? Iran must first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Cruz wants to cut off the talks that can end the Iranian nuclear standoff, deliver a transparent and verifiable non-military nuclear program, and prevent a disastrous war in which Israel would surely play a major role, to demand Iran do something America’s staunchest allies in the region have yet to do. This is just another precondition specifically designed to block engagement. Something Cruz and his right wing colleagues are failing to understand is how the success of negotiations with Iran is actually in Israel’s interest.

  • 11 December 2013
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Sen. Rockefeller Supports Deal, Opposes New Sanctions

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), a senior Democrat and the former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, delivered a strong defense of the nuclear deal with Iran on the floor of the Senate this afternoon while warning that new sanctions would jeopardize the deal.

According to Sen. Rockefeller, “The question is how – not whether – we prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. For the first time in years, there is a real opportunity to verifiably eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability through tough negotiations rather than by acts of war.”

The speech comes at a critical time as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) are seeking to rally support to push new sanctions through next week — the last week the Senate will be in session in 2013.  The Obama administration has strongly warned against new sanctions, which would violate the terms of the nuclear deal, including in Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.  Secretary Kerry also briefed Senators in a closed-door briefing today.

“The initial interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is an encouraging first step, and I urge my colleagues not to put it at risk by passing new sanctions right now,” Sen. Rockefeller warned. ”Instead, we should simply state the obvious: If Iran reneges or plays games, we will quickly pass new sanctions the very moment the need arises.”

New sanctions would also risk unraveling the sanctions regime by undermining international faith in the U.S. approach, according to the Senator.  ”New sanctions now could be criticized as a violation of the interim agreement. Such a move could separate us from our negotiating partners in the P5+1, and it could further complicate the already difficult negotiations of a final agreement.”

Raising the specter of military conflict as the likely outcome of failed diplomacy, Sen. Rockefeller asked his colleagues, “Why would we risk an opportunity that may well be the only chance we have to resolve this without using military force?”

“All of us have lived with war for the past 12 years. We have seen up close the incalculable financial and human cost that has come with these wars, and the burden that the wars now put on our troops, their families, and our economy.”

Sen. Rockefeller also implied that more of his colleagues should take to the floor in support of the agreement.  A number of lawmakers have issued positive statements, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), though Sen. Rockefeller is the first to do so on the Senate floor.

You can view a video of the speech below and and the full text of his speech here.

  • 26 September 2013
  • Posted By Mina Jafari
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Neo-Con Agenda, US-Iran War

Congress races to distort facts and kill Iran opening

From IranFact.org

At the UN this week, the world saw a very different exchange between the U.S. and Iran than in the past years. Iranian President Rouhani declared that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons and seeks to remove “mutual uncertainties with full transparency,” saying Iran “does not seek to increase tensions with the United States.” President Obama welcomed recent positive signals from Iran and said, “We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.”

Yet some in Congress are saying something much different. Since Rouhani and Obama’s speeches, those who are not interested in peace with Iran have been warning against any change in relations, and have often resorted to many false arguments  to maintain that Iran is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” to use President Netanyahu’s description of the newly elected President.

Shortly after Rouhani’s speech, during an interview with CNN, Mike Rogers (R-MI) expressed his skepticism towards further nuclear talks and demanded that Iran first end its production of “over 20% enriched uranium.” The demand was odd given that Iran is not enriching above 20%. As is well documented by the IAEA, Iran has produced only low-enriched uranium (between 3.5%-19.75% concentration). Anything beyond 20% would be news indeed, and Rogers should present his evidence to the IAEA, ASAP.

But I suspect that Rogers, as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has more than sufficient understanding of what levels Iran is enriching to, and merely misspoke on this point. Yet, in the same sentence, Rogers also demanded that –before any talks continue–Iran must open the Fordow plant for inspection. This again is odd. While Fordow facility may be deeply fortified against potential military strikes, there are indeed UN inspections there. The IAEA visits the Fordow plant almost weekly and knows well what is going on in there. A quick glance at any of the IAEA’s quarterly reports on Iran’s nuclear program will tell you as much. Shouldn’t the head of the House Intelligence committee be aware of these simple and well documented facts?

Meanwhile, the heads of the House Foreign Affairs Committee–Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Elliot Engel (D-NY)–responded to Rouhani’s speech by setting an arbitrary deadline of 100 days for Iran to fix the nuclear issue. To put this in perspective, even Royce and Engel were unable to get sanctions legislation marked up in a committee very amendable to such bills in their first 100 days as its chairs. Yet they want Rouhani to fix all of the problems with Iran’s nuclear program in 100 days.

Then there is Senator Bennett of Colorado, who in a letter to a constituent stated, “Iran recently installed 180 advanced centrifuges at its production-scale uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz… [which] could be used to produce enriched uranium suitable for nuclear reactors.” Yes, that is in fact what centrifuges do. That’s what we want to make sure Iran is doing–instead of potentially using enriched uranium for weapons. The level of confusion on this fundamental point is embarrassing.

And then you have Ted Cruz (R-TX). Further complicating potential peace negotiations between Presidents Obama and Rouhani, the Senate’s new maverick introduced a  resolution which sets pre-conditions for such a meeting. In the text, Cruz misquotes Rouhani, claiming the Iranian President referred to Israel as a “a wound…on the body of the Muslim World.” This well documented false translation came from Iranian news sources that embellished a segment of Rouhani’s speech in which he said “Quds day […] is a day that people present the unity of Islam against any type of oppression or aggression. And in any case, in our region, it is an old wound that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world, in the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds.” He made no direct mention of Israel or Zionism–in fact, even Obama has referred to the lack of Israel-Palestine peace as a wound in the region. The misquote, however, has been exploited by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who does not want the U.S. to fall for Rouhani’s “charm offensive” and is desperate to get back to the days when he could claim Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Then we have legislators who are just plain freaking out. Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are pushing for a bill which declares war on Iran. Franks even claims Iran has enough low enriched uranium that (if Iran kicked out IAEA inspectors and rapidly enriched it to weapons grade) could produce 20 nuclear bombs. I have no idea where he gets this number. The IAEA’s accounting of Iran’s total enriched uranium, according to the latest Arms Control Association brief, is that Iran has enough low enriched uranium for four bombs–though building a bomb would require many, many more steps. Franks made the exact same exaggerated claim in 2010. So by his estimate, Iran has not enriched any uranium since 2010.

These Congressional hawks apparently have no qualms taking extreme liberty with the facts, all in an unabashed effort to drag the country into another unwanted, unnecessary war.

The House Gets Bad Advice

When it comes to crafting law, Congress seeks input from outside experts to help inform and guide their decisionmaking. The type of experts the body seeks out can say a lot about why Congress does what it does. Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited some particularly revealing “expert witnesses” that say a lot about the body’s priorities.

The Middle East Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region,” featuring Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation of Defense and Democracies (FDD), a major pro-sanctions lobby that has  been in the spotlight thanks financial filings that indicate it is primarily sponsored by far-right wing millionaires like Sheldon Adelson. Also testifying was John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for years now, going back to his days as UN Ambassador under the Bush Administration.

Dubowitz and Bolton, both representing the neo-conservative hawks in Washington, urged the Members of Congress in attendance to escalate sanctions, dismiss negotiations, and carry out preventative war on Iran.

Dubowitz called for “massively intensifying sanctions on Iran to bring it to the verge of economic collapse.” According to him, Washington was not doing enough to send the message to the Supreme Leader that the U.S. means business. He claimed that the U.S. has been granting sanctions relief to Iran through its “unwillingness to entertain new sanctions [and] non-enforcement of existing sanctions.”

Bolton sided with Dubowitz but added that negotiations with Iran are worthless and that the U.S. should ultimately aim for regime change within Iran. As predicted, Bolton argued yet again that the “only option is a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.”

  • 2 August 2013
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 4 Comments
  • Congress, Sanctions

Thank the 20 Lawmakers Who Stood Up to the War Lobby

On Wednesday, House leadership ignored the Iranian peoples’ call for change and moderation and voted for new punishing sanctions on the Iranian people.

But twenty lawmakers showed courage and leadership by voting no, inviting attacks from the pro-war lobby.  Other representatives who share their views were unwilling to take that risk.  Those twenty representatives need to know that those who oppose war and unending sanctions appreciate their stand, and that we have their back.

Will you sign the petition thanking them for standing up for peace and diplomacy with Iran?

 

Thank the 20 Lawmakers Who Stood Up to the War Lobby

Dear Representatives,

As someone who strongly opposes war between the U.S. and Iran, I thank you for your leadership in standing against new Iran sanctions that undermine diplomacy and punish ordinary Iranians. The courage you showed in standing up for new approach between the U.S. and Iran is precisely what has been lacking in the relationship between the two countries. I commend you and hope you will continue to work with your colleagues to build momentum toward a positive resolution of the U.S.-Iran standoff.

Thank you,

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Learn more about the vote and see the list of lawmakers below and watch the sanctions floor debate here:

  • 10 July 2013
  • Posted By Layla Oghabian
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2013, Sanctions

Escalating Iran Sanctions Could Damage Hopes for New Beginning

On Monday, July 1 new Executive and Congressional sanctions on Iran, put in place before Iran’s recent elections, came into force. These new sanctions target the shipping and automobile sectors, financial transactions involving gold, and holdings of Iran’s currency, the rial. These latest sanctions come amid a growing debate over whether sanctions could undermine diplomatic opportunities and moderates within Iran in the wake of Iran’s recent elections. However, there is little sign that the sanctions will abate, with the House of Representatives considering a floor vote on new, sweeping sanctions in the weeks before Iran’s President-elect, Hassan Rouhani, even enters office.

Rouhani’s ability to deliver and change the policies of the Iranian government remains a question mark. During his campaign, the former nuclear negotiator pledged to “pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace” with the outside world, release political prisoners, and potentially to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent in order to ease tensions with the West.  But his political flexibility may be limited in the face of intensifying economic pressure and fear that the United States is only interested in regime change.