Hill Update: Undermining the Iran Nuclear Deal

by Lara Friedman

[As we have over the past few months, LobeLog is posting excerpts from the Legislative Round-up published weekly when Congress is in session by Americans for Peace Now about what Congress is up to and what individual members are saying, particularly about Israel-Palestine and Iran.]

Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(MORE MILITARY ASSISTANCE FOR ISRAEL) HR 5066: Introduced 4/26 by Higgins (D-NY) and Loudermilk (R-GA), the “United States-Israel Maritime Security Partnership Act of 2016.”  Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Armed Services. The bill would “authorize the President to provide assistance to Israel to protect the coastline of Israel and natural gas fields located in the exclusive economic zone of Israel.” Higgins’ 4/27 floor statement rallying support for the bill is here.

(UNDERMINE THE JCPOA ANY WAY WE CAN) HR 5119: Introduced 4/28 by Pompeo (R-KS) and 5 GOP colleagues, “To prohibit the obligation or expenditure of funds available to any Federal department or agency for any fiscal year to purchase or issue a license for the purchase of heavy water produced in Iran.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Pompeo press release is here.

(UNDERMINE THE JCPOA ANY WAY WE CAN) HR 2028: Introduced 4/24/15 by Simpson (R-ID), the “Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016.” The bill was taken up in the Senate last week, when on 4/20 Senators Alexander (R-TN) and Feinstein (D-CA), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee, offered SA 3801, in the nature of a substitute (in effect replacing the 2016 text with 2017 text). In response, over the following days Cotton (R-AR) offered 3 different version of a “poison pill” amendment (SA 3873SA 3878, and SA 3881) that would attach to the bill language blocking the Obama Administration’s plans to purchase heavy water produced in Iran (Cotton press release here). Senate Democrats objected to having this major appropriations bill hijacked by an effort to undermine the JCPOA and blocked cloture on the bill over the issue (floor debate is here; votes arehere and here; smirking Cotton press releases are here and here). Keeping it classy, on 4/28 McConnell (R-KY) in response accused Senate Democrats of being “more concerned with funding the acquisition of heavy water from Iran than funding water infrastructure right here in our own country…” In its 5/2 editorial, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on Cotton’s effort, noting: “Mr. Cotton’s measure would have blocked the administration from purchasing heavy water used in Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran has to get rid of the water to comply with the deal. By denying Iran an American market, Mr. Cotton and other Republicans hoped to undermine the deal, which they hate.” For more on how this battle is playing out over Cotton’s efforts on this bill, see this brief from the Arms Control Association and this summary from FCNL. [NOTE: Keep an eye on this folks – it’s not over yet. There are likely to be more cloture votes to come…]

(IRAN POINT-SCORING EXERCISE) HR 5139: Introduced 4/29/16 by Roskam (R-IL) and Walorski (R-IN), “To limit the use of funds available to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2017 to procure, or enter into any contract for the procurement of, any goods or services from persons that provide material support to certain Iranian persons.”  Referred to the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Roskam’s press release is here, and notes that the bill would, “ensure the Department of Defense (DOD) does not award contracts to any company that does business with hostile Iranian actors. Potential DOD contractors should not do business with entities complicit in Iran’s support for terrorism, ballistic missile program, human rights abuses, or other illicit activity.”

(MORE US-ISRAEL ECONOMIC COOPERATION) S. Res. 383: Introduced 3/1/16 by Perdue (R-GA) and having 13 bipartisan cosponsors, “A resolution recognizing the importance of the United States-Israel economic relationship and encouraging new areas of cooperation.” On 4/27 this resolution was brought to the Senate floor and amended, and then passed by Unanimous Consent.  Floor consideration of the measure is here. Perdue press release on the passage of the resolution is here.

(IRAN MARITIME OPERATIONS IN THE GULF) H. Res. 709: Introduced 4/28 by Forbes (R-VA), “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Iran, by failing to adhere to international maritime law, ignoring United Nations resolutions, and conducting military operations in a manner that raises tensions within the Arabian Gulf, has undermined stability in the Arabian Gulf, raised the danger of inadvertent escalation, and increased the risk to members of the United States Armed Forces overseas.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Forbes press release is here.

(STATE DEPT AUTHORIZATION – MIDEAST ELEMENTS) S. 1635:  Introduced 6/18/15 by Corker (R-TN), the “Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016.” On 4/28/16, the bill was brought to the Senate floor for consideration, adopted by Unanimous Consent, and sent to the House. The bill includes a number of Israel- and Middle East-related provisions:

  • Sec. 119: “Strategy for the Middle East in the event of a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.” This section requires the Administration to submit to Congress a detailed strategy for the U.S. in the Middle East, including: (1) Efforts to counter Iranian-sponsored terrorism in Middle East region; (2) Efforts to reassure United States allies and partners in Middle East; and (3) Efforts to address the potential for a conventional or nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
  • Sec. 122: “Sense of Congress on anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement within the Palestinian Authority.” This section condemns such incitement and urges Abbas and the PA to “discontinue all official incitement that runs contrary to the determination to put an end to decades of confrontation.”
  • Sec. 301. “Reports concerning the United Nations.” This section requires a report on “Anti-Semitic Activity at the United Nations and Its Agencies,” including: (1) all activities at the United Nations and its subagencies that can be construed to exhibit an anti-Semitic bias, including official statements, proposed resolutions, and United Nations investigations; (2) the use of United Nations resources to promote anti-Semitic or anti-Israel rhetoric or propaganda, including publications, internet websites, and textbooks or other educational materials used to propagate political rhetoric regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and (3) specific actions taken by the United States Government to address any of the activities described in paragraphs (1) and (2).

(NDAA – MIDEAST ELEMENTSHR 4909Introduced 4/12 by Thornberry (R-TX) and Smith (D-WA), the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017” and referred to the Committee on Armed Services, which then referred it to various subcommittees. Reported out of full committee on 4/28, and placed on the Calendar on 5/4. The bill, as brought to the floor, includes numerous Middle East-related elements:

  • Sec. 1221: Modification and extension of authority to provide assistance to the vetted Syrian opposition.”
  • Sec. 1222: “Modification and extension of authority to provide assistance to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” [Note: this section stipulates that, “The term `violent extremist organization’ means an organization that– (i) is a foreign terrorist organization designated by the Secretary of State under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189) or is associated with a foreign terrorist organization; or(ii) is known to be under the command and control of, or is associated with, the Government of Iran.]
  • Sec. 1224: “Report on prevention of future terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.” The required report must describe “the political, economic, and security conditions in Iraq and Syria that would be necessary and sufficient to prevent the formation of future terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria that may present a danger to the United States, its allies, and the stability of Iraq, Syria, and the rest of the Middle East region.”
  • Sec. 1241: “Sense of Congress on malign activities of the Government of Iran.” This section stipulates that it is the sense of Congress that the JCPOA “does not address the totality of the malign activities of the Government of Iran, including ballistic missile launches, support for designated foreign terrorist organizations, or other proxies conducting malign activities in the region and globally.” It also states that the U.S. “should increase its efforts to counter the continued expansion of malign activities of the Government of Iran in the Middle East” and “should ensure that it has robust, enduring military posture and capabilities forward deployed in the Arabian Gulf region to deter Iranian aggression and respond to Iranian aggression, if necessary.” Finally, it states that the U.S. “should strengthen ballistic missile defense capabilities and increase security assistance to United States partners and allies in the region.”
  • Sec. 1250: “United States-Israel directed energy cooperation.” This section provides the Administration the authority to “carry out research, development, test, and evaluation activities, on a joint basis with Israel, to establish directed energy capabilities to detect and defeat ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, mortars, and improvised explosive devices that threaten the United States, deployed forces of the United States, or Israel.” The section puts an annual ceiling on funding for such activities at $25 million [NOTE: This funding is separate from and additional to the $3.1 billion in FMF funding provided to Israel under the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, and funding that is separate from the funding provided in the annual NDAA for Israeli cooperative programs].
  • Sec. 1253: “Modification of annual report on military power of Iran.” This section adds to an already-required report new mandatory reporting issues: “(E) an estimate of Iran’s military cyber capabilities, including persons and entities operating on behalf of Iran, and any information on those persons or entities responsible for targeting United States critical infrastructure or United States persons or entities;” and “(F) information on Iranian military and security organizations responsible for detaining members of the United States Armed Forces or interfering in United States military operations.”
  • Sec. 1302: “Funding allocations.” This section states that “$4,000,000 may be obligated for monitoring the ‘proliferation pathways’ under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
  • Sec. 1653: “Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system and Israeli cooperative missile defense program co-development and coproduction.” This section authorizes up to $62 million for the Government of Israel “to procure Tamir interceptors for the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system, as specified in the funding table in division D, through coproduction of such interceptors in the United States by industry of the United States.” It also authorizes up to $150 million to the Government of Israel to procure the David’s Sling Weapon System and up to $120 million to the Government of Israel for the Arrow 3 Upper Tier Interceptor Program. [NOTE: All of this funding is separate from and additional to the $3.1 billion in FMF funding provided to Israel under the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill].
  • Israeli cooperative programs: The table at the end of the bill notes under Title XLII (Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation) that the total authorized by the House for Israeli Cooperative Programs is $239,835,000 (the White House request was $103,835,000).


(NO PLANES FOR IRAN) Roskam et al letter to Boeing: On 5/2, Reps. Roskam (R-IL), Dold (R-IL), and Hultgren (R-IL) sent a letter to Boeing urging Boeing “in the strongest possible terms – not to do business with Iran until it ends its support for terror.” The letter closes with a thinly-veiled threat: “We will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from obtaining additional means to threaten our national security. We are actively exploring legislative and other means to make sure Western companies understand the risks and repercussions of placing profits over the safety and well-being of the American people.” Roskam press release is here.

(NEW ISRAEL MOU) AIPAC-backed Graham-Coons letter: Since late March, AIPAC and its supporters have been pressing senators to sign the Graham-Coons letter, calling for additional funding for Israel under a new MOU. However, as noted in the 3/25 edition of the Round-Up, this seemingly benign letter is reportedly proving problematic, since in making the case for increased military aid to Israel, it asserts, pretty directly, that the JCPOA is a bad deal that will fail in the near term, thus increasing the danger to Israel (“Moreover, Israel must prepare for the likelihood that Iran will resume its quest for nuclear weapons.”). This framing was self-evidently problematic (and probably infuriating) for Senate Democrats who supported the Iran deal and also support increased aid to Israel. In the end, the letter closed on 4/25 (meaning it took more than a month to pull together what were apparently viewed as enough signers to send the letter), with 83 bipartisan signers. The extremely interesting list of 17 senators who did NOT sign the letter is as follows:  Baldwin (D-WI), Boxer (D-CA), Brown (D-OH), Carper (D-DE), Corker (R-TN), Franken (D-MN), Kaine (D-VA), King (I-ME), Leahy (D-VT), Murphy (D-CT), Paul (R-KY), Reed (D-RI), Sanders (D-VT), Sessions (R-AL), Shaheen (D-NH), Tester (D-MT), and Udall (D-NM). Coons press release touting the letter ishere.

(PUNISH CHINESE COMPANY FOR IRAN DEALINGS) Pittinger et al letter: On 4/27, Rep. Pittinger (R-NC) and 23 House colleagues sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Pritzker, Secretary of Treasury Lew, and Secretary of State Kerry regarding the Commerce Department’s decision to suspend trade sanctions on a Chinese company “related to the sale of embargoed equipment to an Iranian government-controlled entity which could be used to oppress human rights.” In the words of Pittenger’s press release, the signers are “demanding answers from the Obama Administration and urging officials to re-impose penalties.”


5/24: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Understanding the Role of Sanctions Under the Iran Deal.” Scheduled witnesses are: Mark Dubowitz (FDD); Matthew Levitt (WINEP); Michael Elleman (IISS); and Elizabeth Rosenberg (CNAS).

5/25: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Understanding the Role of Sanctions Under the Iran Deal: Administration Perspectives.” The sole scheduled witness is Adam Szubin, Acting Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

On the Record

Hatch (R-UT) 5/5: Press release with details of his 5/2-5/7 trip to Israel (including list of meetings)


Palmer (R-AL) 4/29: Iran Violated Nuclear Deal Before Ink Was Dry

Coffman (R-CO) 4/29: Coffman Passes Amendment [to NDAA] to Sanction China for Supporting Iranian Nuclear Program (amendment here).

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/28: Hezbollah and Iranian Influence in Lebanon Endangers U.S. Assistance and Regional Allies

Whitehouse (D-RI) 4/27: Point to Iran’s use of anonymous shell corporations in the US in making the case for the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act.

Coons (D-DE) 4/27: “Mr. President, earlier this month, the Governor of Iran’s central bank, Dr. Valiollah Seif, spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations inWashington and he made three primary claims. First, he said sanctions did not, in fact, lead Iran to agree to the terms of the nuclear agreement betweenIran and the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the EU, Russia, and China. He said sanctions did not force Iran to agree. Second, he said Iran’s nuclear program has always been entirely peaceful. Third, he said that the United States and our European allies have not honored our commitments under the terms of the nuclear deal also known as the JCPOA. Today I wish to push back against all three of these claims…”

Pompeo (R-KS) 4/27: Pompeo Criticizes U.S. Purchase of Iranian Nuclear Material

Poe (R-TX) 4/27: Listing threats to Israel and bemoaning the “strained” relations between Israel and the U.S.

Dold (R-IL) 4/27: Praising the work of ILLINPAC, “a group of students on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus who are making a positive and important impact through their pro-Israel advocacy.”

Rigell (R-VA) 4/26: Happy Birthday Israel!



Kirk (R-IL) 4/22: Kirk Statement on Links Between Anti-Israel BDS Efforts in Chicago and Former Leaders of Punished Pro-Hamas Charities in U.S.

Photo of Tom Cotton (R-AR) by Michael Vadon via Flickr


Lara Friedman

Lara Friedman is the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). With more than 25 years working in the Middle East foreign policy arena, Lara is a leading authority on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with particular expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and the role of the U.S. Congress. She is published widely in the U.S. and international press and is regularly consulted by members of Congress and their staffs, by Washington-based diplomats, by policy-makers in capitals around the world, and by journalists in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to her work at FMEP, Lara is a non-resident fellow at the U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP). Prior to joining FMEP, Lara was the director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now, and before that she was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, serving in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis and Beirut. She holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service; in addition to English, Lara speaks French, Arabic, Spanish, (weak) Italian, and muddles through in Hebrew.



  1. Is one small country on the eastern end of the Mediterranean all these people care about — and that country’s enemy, Iran?

  2. Seems like the Executive and the Legislative are actually pursuing counter-policies

  3. Good dogs don’t bite the hands that feed them! A bunch of subservient and greedy members of Congress taking orders and looking after their own interests rather than the interests of those whom they represent!

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