Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congress Increases Its Focus on Iran after Presidential Decision to Expand Contacts

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congress Increases Its Focus on Iran after Presidential Decision to Expand Contacts

Article excerpt

President Barack Obama's decision to in- crease U.S. diplomatic and other con- tacts with Iran has caused Israel's congres- sional minions to step up their efforts to strengthen or expand sanctions on Iran. (Many Israeli leaders apparently see Obama's decision as somehow bad for Is- rael and a "modern form of appeasement." The right-wing Israeli publication Arutz Sheva reported that Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Chief Gen. Amos Yadlin told the Israeli cabinet on March 8 that Iran "is hoping to take advantage of the dialogue with Washington to buy time to advance toward the ability to build a bomb.")

On cue, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (DMD), joined by six other senior House Democrats, all chairmen of important committees or subcommittees, sent a letter to Obama on March 26 that, while appearing to support direct engagement with the government of Iran, insisted that there should be a short time limit on the negotiations. The letter said that "our goal should be to bring about Iran's near-term suspension of uranium enrichment, and we should offer Iran meaningful incentives in order to achieve this goal." But it also said that "Iran must verifiably suspend its uranium enrichment program within at most a few months of the initiation of discussions."

The rest of the letter was devoted to punitive measures Washington should take against Iran should the talks "fail." As Americans for Peace Now's (APN) Lara Friedman said in APN's "Legislative RoundUp" of April 3, negotiations that are "predicated on the threat of harsh consequences if 'success' is not achieved by a pre-defined end date are. . .akin to asking one party to sit at a 'negotiating' table across from a negotiating partner who keeps a loaded gun at his side, in plain sight."

The letter's signers, in addition to Hoyer, were fellow Democratic Reps. Gary Ackerman (NY), Howard Berman (CA), Silvestre Reyes (TX), Ike Skelton (MO), Henry Waxman (CA) and Robert Wexler (FL).

In addition, three separate bills were introduced in the House and Senate to expand economic sanctions against Iran by amending the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to include as sanctionable activities aiding in the development of Iran's petroleum resources or providing or facilitating the export of refined petroleum resources to Iran. First, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) on April 21 introduced H.R. 1985, which has 26 co-sponsors, including Kirk. Then, in the Senate, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) on April 28 introduced S. 908, which is more comprehensive than Kirk's bill, in that it expands the list of possible sanctions and includes a "sense of Congress" section recommending additional actions the U.S. government should take.

A similar bill, H.R. 2194, was introduced in the House by Berman on April 30. S. 908 has 31 co-sponsors, including Bayh, and H.R. 2194 has 25 co-sponsors, including Berman. Among the non-binding "sense of Congress" recommendations in both S. 908 and H.R. 2194 is one urging the imposition of "sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and any other Iranian bank or financial institution engaged in proliferation activities or support of terrorist groups."

Also, on March 5, Rep. Barney Frank (DMA) introduced H.R. 1327, which would "authorize state and local governments to direct divestiture from, and prevent investment in, companies with investments of $20,000,000 or more in Iran's energy sector." At first, the bill had Utile support, but in late March and April, as ATPAC's annual Washington conference grew nearer, many more co-sponsors signed on. The bill has 142 cosponsors, including Frank.

The draconian H.R. 485, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in January to strengthen and toughen both the Iran Sanctions Act and the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, still has no support. However, H.R. 1206 and H.R. 1208 strengthening sanctions on Syria and Iran, which she introduced in February, continue to gain co-sponsors. H.R. 1206 would strengthen sanctions against Syria and "enhance multilateral commitment to address [Syria's] threatening policies. …

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