by Eli Clifton
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) opposes pretty much anything that might take the pressure off Iran. He called Obama the “drug dealer in chief” for delivering $400 million in cash to the Islamic Republic as part of a settlement for money owed to Iran since 1979. He has gone so far as to say that “it’s okay to take food out of the mouths” of the Iranian people to punish their government for its behavior. And he opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief, declaring it the “greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler.”
But Kirk’s immediate political interests appear to outweigh his hostility to Iran, and its population, when it comes to a potential $25 billion purchase of Boeing passenger aircraft by Iran Air.
Boeing is based in Illinois, the state Kirk represents and where he is fighting a tough reelection against Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). It is the third largest public company (by market capitalization) in the state.
Kirk’s only public comment on the potential deal came last month, when he acknowledged that his desire for jobs in his state competes with his distrust of Iran. In June, he told Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle, “You want the jobs, but you are worried about what the Iranians are going to do with the aircraft.”
Kirk’s spokesperson did not respond for requests for clarification about the senator’s position on the potential sale of Boeing aircraft.
But other Republicans haven’t stayed as quiet as Kirk.
“American companies should not be complicit in weaponizing the Iranian Regime,” Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Peter Roskam (R-IL) said in a letter to Boeing in June.
Tim Keating, Boeing’s senior vice president of government relations, responded to Hensarling and Roskam, writing, “Boeing negotiated the MOA under the authority of the U.S. government following its determination that Iran had met its obligations under the (nuclear agreement).”
Opponents of the deal have expressed concern that Iran may use the planes to ferry arms and other supplies to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or to Hezbollah.
The lifting of sanctions against Iran’s aviation sector following the adoption of the JCPOA leaves Boeing free to negotiate a sale with Iran. House Republicans, however, have made efforts to scuttle the deal, and an advocacy campaign from Iran hawks opposed to JCPOA has sought to pressure companies from doing business with Iran.
Kirk’s unwillingness to take sides against the sale might be an example of the hawkish senator’s electoral needs outweighing his animosity toward Tehran and his dependence on hawkish pro-Israel funding. Donors affiliated with NorPAC, a PAC associated with AIPAC, which led opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, are Kirk’s top campaign contributors. A super PAC called Independent Voice for Illinois has raised $1.6 million, largely from out-of-state Republican donors, including $250,000 from hedge fund billionaire and anti-Iran deal donor Paul Singer, and appears to be exclusively focusing its spending on ads supporting Kirk’s reelection.
In 2010, Kirk was the top recipient of funds from “pro-Israel groups” of all Congressional candidates, having received well over $639 million, more than twice the total of what his nearest rival, Minority Leader Harry Reid got from the same lobby. In the latest election cycle, he’s not doing quite so well: He is virtually tied for third place with John McCain at about $324,000, about $25,000 behind Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and $50,000 behind the leader, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who also opposed the JCPOA.