UPDATED: Iran Hawks on Hill Argue About Credit for Sanctions

On Capital J, the excellent Washington blog of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), D.C. bureau chief Ron Kampeas chronicles the blow by blow of two members of Congress over who should get credit for last summer’s Iran sanctions act:

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for the open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, has been plagued by apologies for exaggerations of his record […]. Now Democrats are accusing Kirk of falsely claiming credit for a hunk of the Iran sanctions act passed this summer. This time, however, the Kirk campaign is sticking to its guns and accusing the Dems of politicking.

Kirk has said that legislation he and Democrat Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) sponsored shaped legislation that targeted companies that deliver refined petroleum to Iran, a major crude producer, but with a refinement capacity that has been in disarray. He said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee, eventually slapped his name atop the bill — which is customary, because major bills need heft to pass.

Berman says Kirk had nothing to do with the final bill, according to this Chicago Sun Times account, a notion Kirk’s campaign strongly rejects. Backing Kirk is Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking member of the committee. That puts her in the uncomfortable position of directly contradicting Berman — upsetting the Foreign Affairs Committee’s  norm of chairs and ranking members going out of their way to get along.

Kampeas gives Kirk the win “on points.” He initially described Kirk’s appraisal of his role in creating the sanctions package as “hubristic.” After being contacted by Kirk’s campaign and going through incarnations of the bill, Kampeas concludes that “hubristic” might have been too strong and  Kirk deserves some credit.

It should be noted that Kirk and Berman are both favorites of the right-wing, pro-Israel lobby. Kirk is far and away the largest fundraiser from pro-Israel PAC’s, having raised a career total of $1.4 million (50 percent more than his next competitor). While Berman has raised a relatively paltry $400,000, he is known for also toeing the pro-Israel line.

We pointed out in our August 5 Daily Talking Points that Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) president Cliff May noted in a National Review article that, as the sanctions packages were being drafted by Congress, several members of a task force went to the Hill to brief the authors of the legislation. This group included two experts from the FDD and was put together by the neoconservative American Foreign Policy Council.

UPDATE: Foreign Policy‘s excellent The Cable blog, authored by Josh Rogin, gets a former AIPAC spokesperson to recount Kirk’s role in authoring the legislation, which was a top priority in recent years for the Israel lobby group:

“There’s no question that Mark Kirk was one of the first, if not the first member of Congress to advocate restricting the flow of gasoline to Iran as a way of pressuring Iran on its nuclear program,” said Josh Block, who was the chief spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which was intimately involved in the bill’s legislative journey.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.