Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congressman Bob Ney: A Voice of Reason on Iran

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congressman Bob Ney: A Voice of Reason on Iran

Article excerpt

Congressman Bob Ney: A Voice of Reason on Iran

The U.S. Congress as a whole is generally negative toward Iran and prepared to resist any efforts to relax sanctions, or even ease tensions with Iran. There are a few members of Congress, however, who "question the policy of isolation and realize that the time is here to join the rest of the world by engaging Iran in constructive talks."

That quote is from an article Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) wrote for Middle East Insight magazine nearly a year ago. More recently, at a Middle East Institute-sponsored Capitol Hill seminar on Iran, Ney's legislative director, Maria Robinson, was the only one among five congressional staff member panelists who spoke in favor of reexamining U.S. policy toward Iran.

In an interview with the Washington Report, Ney said that his views have not changed, except that he would add that it is also time for Iran to take a step toward easing tensions with the U.S. For example, he said, if Iran were to indicate a willingness to receive a congressional delegation, he could guarantee that there would be no fewer than 15 members of Congress ready to go on short notice. He said that perhaps a way to begin would be to have an informal meeting, with no agenda, between members of Congress and members of Iran's Majlis, perhaps at a neutral site in Europe.

Ney became interested in Iran at a relatively early age, because his sister and her family had a 13-year-old Iranian boy living with them and attending school. By the time Ney graduated from college in 1976 he had already been involved in several Republican political campaigns, and he had also picked up the basics of the Farsi language. After a brief stint working in the administration of Ohio's then-Governor Jim Rhodes, Ney decided he wanted to do something different.

So he sold his car and in January 1978, at the age of 23, with a one-way plane ticket and $275 in his pocket, he flew to Iran. He knew no one and had no job, but in a short while he had moved to Shiraz and was holding four translating and teaching jobs, primarily at the Iran-America Society school.

It was not a particularly good time for an American to be in Iran. In March, the revolution erupted in earnest; in May the U.S. Consulate advised Americans to leave; and in July the school was closed down. So Ney left Iran in July 1978, after only six months in the country. But those six months left him with a lasting affection for the Iranian people.

Upon returning to the U.S., Ney re-entered politics, and in 1980 was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. In 1984 he was appointed to the Ohio Senate, and subsequently was re-elected in 1984, 1988, and 1992.

In 1994 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio's 18th district (coveting 14 counties in eastern Ohio). He was subsequently re-elected in 1996 and 1998 and presently serves on the House Banking Committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the House Administration Committee.

During his four years in Congress, Ney has not been outspoken on Middle East issues, but he has quietly withstood the pressures of the Israel lobby. For that reason he was in this magazine's "Hall of Fame" for his record on Middle East issues last year. So far this year, he has co-sponsored a concurrent resolution expressing the sense of Congress that Jonathan Pollard should not be released and should sere his full life sentence for treason. Ney also participated in the Capitol Hill luncheon for President Arafat, and he voted against the anti-Palestinian statehood resolution in March. …

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