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Administration Seeks Support for Iran Deal in Contentious Hearing

Secretaries Kerry and Moniz testify. Photo courtesy of AP.

With only seven weeks left until the September 17th deadline for Congress to vote to approve or reject the Iran deal, it is increasingly looking like a deal will rest on the support of a handful of key Democrats. Last week, in a contentious hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that stretched into a fifth hour, senior Obama administration officials mounted a spirited defense of the Iran deal in the face of near-unanimous Republican opposition. Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew all testified in their first public appearance before Congress since the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) set the tone for Republican attacks by accusing Sec. Kerry of being “fleeced” by the Iranians. He was later followed by his colleague Sen. James Risch (R-ID) who declared “you guys have been bamboozled.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Republican Presidential candidate, charged that the agreement was “fundamentally flawed” and left the hearing shortly thereafter. Other Republican members of the committee were equally, if not more combative, with the exception of Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

While Sen. Isakson was not as aggressive as his Republican colleagues, only inquiring as to why American nationals are not allowed to be part of the IAEA inspection teams, his previous statements have caused some to put him in the “No” camp.

Sen. Flake, on the other hand, is one of the lone Republicans in the Senate that is neither outright opposed nor leaning in opposition to the Iran deal. He reiterated his support for the negotiations and indicated he wasn’t looking to ask any “gotcha” questions. “I understand the problem of having 535 secretaries of state,” Flake said of the Congressional push to have a say on the Iran deal, but in order to have a lasting deal he added “it is best to have Congress involved.”

With Republicans largely united in opposition, the administration is forced to pin its hopes on convincing Congressional Democrats to block a possible vote of disapproval during the 60 day review period.

Outside of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a longtime opponent of the administration’s negotiations with Iran, the rest of the Democrats on the committee asked largely helpful questions about specific parts of the deal. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chastised her Republican colleagues for personal attacks on Sec. Kerry and the other witnesses, calling it “ridiculous and unfair and wrong” to say that they had been “bamboozled” or “fleeced.” The United Nations Security Council had earlier in the week unanimously passed a resolution approving the Iran Deal. Sen. Boxer alluded to this when she remarked “so my colleagues think you [Sec. Kerry] were fleeced and bamboozled, and that means everybody was fleeced and bamboozled, everybody, almost everybody in the world.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee and one of the key swing votes in the Senate, claimed “our negotiators got an awful lot, particularly on the nuclear front,” adding that many areas “have been strengthened since the April framework,” though he was noncommittal on how he would ultimately vote.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) did indicate that he was worried about what happens as the most intrusive elements of the agreement expire but he struck a supportive note when he said “this is a deal that produces a dramatically better position for 15 years than the status quo.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) was another supportive voice on the committee, adding that he trusted the expertise of the nuclear scientists at the national labs in New Mexico who helped craft the inspection and verification regime. On the question of ensuring timely access to suspicious non-nuclear sites under the deal, which has emerged as a key point of debate, Udall asked, “do you believe we have the technical capabilities to determine if enrichment is being done outside the JCPOA?” Sec. Moniz answered affirmatively, pointing to the example of an Iranian site in 2003 where traces of uranium were detected after six months, “despite major efforts to disguise it.”

In the coming weeks, the Obama administration will continue to defend the Iran deal during the Congressional review period while shoring up support among Democrats and any fence-sitting Republicans to stave off Congressional rejection. Sec. Kerry and Sec. Moniz will head to the House Foreign Relations Committee today in what is expected to be a similarly contentious hearing.

  • 2 July 2015
  • Posted By Ala Hasemi-Haeri
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

A Comedy of Errors

Senator Cotton Keeps Repeating the Same Erroneous Iran Arguments at Security Conference

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“With all due respect Senator,” said the Center for a New American Security’s (CNAS) Ilan Goldenberg addressing Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, “I don’t think the president’s objective is to give the Iranian regime nuclear weapons,” a retort which drew a huge applause from the capacity crowd present at the CNAS conference in downtown DC.

The conference titled A World in Turmoil: Charting America’s Course, evoked in the attendees a sense of the chaos around them by displaying pictures of war and blight everywhere from Ferguson to the Gaza Strip. However, amidst these images of havoc, a rational and pragmatic discussion about the potential benefits and pitfalls of a nuclear deal with Iran was taking place, ably moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

Well, relatively rational.

While most of the panelists were discussing the deal in terms of US strategic goals and interests and negotiating tactics, Sen. Cotton kept repeating his talking points from the past two years with little regard for the actual facts.

When David Ignatius asked him about the appropriateness of the letter the Arkansas Senator and forty six of his Republican colleagues sent the Iranians, Cotton repeated his condescending assertion that he wrote his now infamous letter because the Iranian leadership “doesn’t understand our constitutional system.” This despite the fact that the Rouhani administration has more cabinet members with doctorates from American universities than any other government in the world.

The Senator also insisted his letter was meant to bolster the administration’s bargaining position, despite his many past acknowledgments that his efforts are intended to kill a deal. Senator Cotton finally said that our goal should be regime change, and not negotiation, something Amb. Burns, a fellow Republican vehemently disagreed with.

Cotton also stated that 70% of Americans oppose the deal when in reality surveys show consistent support for the negotiations, often by a 60-70% margin or a 2:1 ratio. He then went on to repeat his maximalist demand that the only acceptable deal is one where Iran dismantles its nuclear industry completely, an unrealistic stance to say the least that even our closest allies don’t support.

Senator Cotton chastised the Obama administration for not supporting the 2009 Green Movement in Iran even though the leaders of that movement did not want any outside interference because it would have given the regime an excuse to crack down even harder.  Or that regardless of political affiliation, Iranians view having a civilian nuclear industry as their right.

He said we shouldn’t trust Iran because it is run by “crazy Ayatollahs” (a comment that drew a derisive chuckle from the audience). However, even the most hardline elements of the Iranian regime have proven again and again that they are willing to act rationally to preserve and enhance its position in the region, even cutting deals with its worst enemies.

Citing Iran’s destabilizing activities, he said “you don’t cooperate with the world’s leading sponsor of State terrorism, you don’t cooperate with the government with the blood of hundreds of Americans on its hands. You confront it in at every effort it makes to challenge the West.” But Goldenberg pointed out that we were more than willing to negotiate with the “Soviet Union which was sponsoring proxy wars which killed thousands of Americans at the time, was trying to subvert many of our allies” because it was in our national interest.

Quoting Yitzhak Rabin, Amb. Nicholas Burns said that “you don’t negotiate with your best friends, you negotiate with your worst enemy.” Ilan Goldenberg added that even though the Iranian regime is a “nasty regime” and we shouldn’t “bank on this agreement on changing that,” we should pursue the American interest of “preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon” by negotiating the same way we did with the Soviet Union.

Instead of focusing on the merits of an emerging deal, like the more reasonable critics of the Iran negotiations, Sen. Cotton keeps regurgitating his tired talking points about regime change. If a deal fails because of intransigence by the likes of Sen. Cotton, it would be very hard to keep the sanctions regime intact and Iran will have a free hand to pursue whatever nuclear technology it wants.

Cotton’s repetitive, almost robotic delivery of these fallacious talking points makes it difficult to tell if he actually believes what he is saying or if he is just trying to score political points. Either way, the fact that he might be able to derail a deal with Iran, and drag the US into another needless conflict, is a prospect more frightening than any of the horrifying pictures of war and devastation that were on display outside the conference hall.

 

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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