by Jim Lobe
If you want to keep up with legislative and other Washington-based developments regarding Iran, including Bibi Netanyahu’s forthcoming visit here, there are a number of documents and websites that should bring you up to date. Below you will find excerpts I’ve lifted from the latest Legislative Round-Up, the indispensable weekly by Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now (APN).
In addition, if you want to keep track of the controversy surrounding Bibi’s speech, the California-based ReThink Media has created a new, easy-to-use website on statements by editorial boards, columnists, Israelis, and members of Congress who have come out in opposition to Netanyahu’s visit and/or the invitation by House Speaker John Boehner and associates. (The APN Round-Up also includes an inventory of statements by members of Congress regarding Netanyahu’s visit.
The APN Round-up also cites Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) bill, which appears to have displaced the Kirk-Menendez bill as the most immediate legislative vehicle in the Bibi-Republican effort to sabotage the P5+1 negotiations. On Friday, the National Security Network posted a brief, “Iran Hawks’ Rush to Pass Legislation Imperils Nuclear Deal,” with useful links on why this seemingly innocent bill about congressional review of the deal could, if approved, wreak havoc on the negotiations. The brief follows APN’s Round-Up below.
APN Legislative Round-up
1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
(IRAN DEAL OVERSIGHT/VETO) S. XXX: Credible rumors began circulating this week that long-impending new Iran legislation – to be introduced by Senator Corker (R-TN) and seeking to legislate Congressional oversight/veto over any Iran deal–would be marked up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before the end of the month. It is anticipated that Corker, chair of the SFRC, may be finding support for his effort from ranking member Menendez (D-NJ), as well as, possibly, from Kaine (D-VA). Text of the new Corker bill is reportedly still being tweaked; as noted in the 1/9/15 edition of the Round-Up, this legislation is expected to be similar to legislation Corker introduced last year (S. 2650), which hit a wall (see the 7/25/14 edition of the Round-Up for details). It should be noted that many experts consider this legislative effort or ore even more dangerous to the success of Iran talks and reaching an agreement than the pending sanctions bill, as explained in this excellent analysis from RAND and in this excellent brief from the Arms Control Association. Regarding timing, it is worth noting that a markup in the SFRC before the end of February would set this bill up nicely to be a focus of AIPAC lobbying during its policy conference (AIPAC lobby day is March 3, the same day Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress).
(SENATE GOP WELCOMES BIBI!) S. Res. 76: Introduced 2/12 by Cornyn (R-TX) and 50 GOP colleagues (no Democrats), “A resolution welcoming the Prime Minister of Israel to the United States for his address to a joint session of Congress.” Referred to Senate committee. Resolution text (not yet in the Congressional Record) and Cornyn statement introducing it, are here. Cornyn’s press release on the resolution is here.
(EXONERATING BIBI, BLAMING BOEHNER) Israel-Deutch-Lowey letter: On 2/12, Reps. Israel (D-NY), Deutch (D-FL) and Lowey (D-NY) – all Jewish – sent a letter to House Majority Leader Boehner regarding the invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress. The letter, which states explicitly that all three will attend the address, focuses 100% on the protocol question, asking for “full transparency” about what happened. In effect, the letter asks Boehner to either completely absolve Netanyahu of any responsibility for this mess and agree that it was all Boehner’s fault, or to publicly call Israel’s Ambassador in Washington and its Deputy Foreign Minister liars. The letter does not raise objections to the speech on substantive grounds (i.e., that Netanyahu’s goal is to scuttle Iran diplomacy, or that the speech will be used as a campaign event).
2. The Bibi Speech Political Storm Continues
This week again saw new developments on the Hill over the drama surrounding Netanyahu’s planned March 3 address to a joint session of Congress.
GOP doubles down in support of Bibi appearance… The GOP was clearly back on offense this week, with numerous members speaking out in support of the Netanyahu speech, including an almost unbelievably McCarthy-istic speech from Rubio, R-FL, excerpted in section 3, below (in which he suggested that boycotting the speech supports terrorism). This week also saw the introduction of an unabashedly partisan Senate resolution (S. Res. 76) welcoming Netanyahu’s speech. At the same time, the ZOA came out with a scorching condemnation of Jewish groups opposing the speech (comparing them to European Jewish leaders who were in denial about the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s) and the RJC launched a petition campaign supporting the speech, presumably meant to counter the very successful “I’m a Jew. Bibi Does NOT speak for me” petition against the speech led by J Street.
…while Democratic opposition to Bibi speech continues to grow… More Democrats have come out in the last week criticizing the planned Bibi speech before Congress in March (see Section 3, below, for excerpts–updated from last week). In addition, more members have gone on the record stating that they will not attend. The Hill newspaper is keeping up a Whip List of who is going and who is not, here.
From the press:
The Forward 2/11: Why Israel Lobby Is Biggest Casualty of Feud Over Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech
Haaretz+ (Peter Beinart) 2/11: Netanyahu’s real victim? The American Jewish establishment
Roll Call 2/10: Democrats Facing Choice Between Obama, Netanyahu
Politico 2/10: Don’t disrespect our president, black lawmakers tell Netanyahu
TPM 2/9: A Tangled Web
JTA 2/9: The little Times correction that couldn’t (make Speechgate go away)
The Forward 2/8: Benjamin Netanyahu Backers Insist He Technically Didn’t Snub Barack Obama Over Speech [but they’re wrong]
Haaretz+ 2/8: Scorched earth created by Netanyahu’s Congress speech is spreading
The Hill 2/6: Dems lining up to skip Netanyahu
Politico 2/6: Benjamin Netanyahu’s side strikes back
Iran Hawks’ Rush to Pass Legislation Imperils Nuclear Deal
As P5+1 and Iranian diplomats continue to work toward an agreement to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is pushing forward with legislation that could scuttle the talks. Sen. Corker’s bill, which would subject any final deal to an up-or-down vote in Congress, could be considered as soon as the end of this month. Passing this legislation while negotiators are making considerable progress toward a comprehensive deal would signal to Iranian negotiators that the United States will not be able to carry out its commitments under an agreement and would delay the implementation of any agreement. Congress will have a serious role in any nuclear deal with Iran–it will be a critical component, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. intelligence committee, of the oversight process for Iran’s implementation of an agreement, and will have to manage legislation with regards to nuclear-related sanctions based on Iran’s adherence to a deal. But with negotiators still trying to reach a deal and time still left on the clock, this sensitive moment is the wrong time for Congress to weigh in; doing so risks derailing the talks, with dire consequences. Congress should avoid passing Corker’s legislation, which is based of unrealistic expectations for the negotiations and inappropriate legislative analogies.
Congress has a vital role to play if international partners and Iran get to a final deal, but this is the wrong time to weigh in. Sen. Corker’s rush to pass this legislation comes at a bad time. Iran’s leadership is demonstrating its receptiveness to a deal despite pressure from hardline politicians. Sen. Corker’s efforts to stifle diplomacy even before the aspirational March 24 target date for a political framework–and months before the expiration of the Joint Plan of Action in June–create the impression that the United States cannot live up to its diplomatic commitments and strengthen the hand of Iranian hardliners. “The less confidence the Iranians have that the American side can uphold its end of an agreement, the more likely the Iranians will hold back from making the key compromises necessary to seal a deal and resolve the decade-old nuclear dispute,” note Trita Parsi and Tyler Cullis of the National Iranian American Council.
The consequences of the talks collapsing are dire. Ilan Goldenberg and Robert Kaplan of the Center for a New American Security write that they “believe the results might be more dangerous for Iran, the United States, and the Middle East than an imperfect deal that keeps Iran a healthy distance from a bomb and gives the United States reasonable confidence that it could catch an Iranian attempt to dash to a weapon, without eliminating Iran’s nuclear program.” They outline how the collapse of the talks could escalate tensions in the Middle East to a region-wide hot war, fought by conventional forces and terrorist proxies. “Congress should think long and hard before it tries to subvert the Iran nuclear talks,” they conclude. “Let’s wait a bit longer to see what kind of a deal, if any, the Administration manages to strike with Iran. There will be enough time then for Congress and others to act in order to avoid a sell-out of our principles.” [Trita Parsi and Tyler Cullis, 2/13/15. Ilan Goldenberg and Robert Kaplan, 2/13/15]
Advocates of Sen. Corker’s bill are unrealistic about what a final deal could look like. Conservative critics of the negotiations have repeatedly expressed their frustration that the negotiations do not deal with the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, which evidence suggests was halted nearly a decade ago, or Iran’s ballistic missile program. This was never feasible, and both sides have had to accept compromises. As President Hassan Rouhani noted recently, “negotiations mean reaching a common point…This means that one side would not end up getting all it wants.” But as Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, wrote recently, the P5+1 can reach a deal that can “significantly reduce Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium in order to increase the time that Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for one bomb to at least twelve months” while also increasing “the international community’s ability to promptly detect and disrupt any future effort by Iran to build nuclear weapons.” This cannot be reduced to a single benchmark like the number of centrifuges, but must be assessed based on its overall ability to monitor and block Iran’s pathways to enriching fissile material for a nuclear weapon. “In the final analysis,” Kimball wrote, “serious policymakers in Washington and other capitals must consider whether their country is better off with an effective comprehensive nuclear agreement-or the continued pursuit of an effective deal-than without one.” Under these circumstances, Iran would face no constraints on its enrichment and the international community would have little ability to monitor and gauge its progress. [Daryl Kimball, 2/9/15]
A final deal with Iran would be a political agreement, not a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, and thus does not need congressional approval. Sen. Corker has argued that the potential nuclear agreement is analogous to “123 agreements” that the United States has signed with other nations that have been subject to congressional approval. Those agreements “are designed to ensure that U.S. cooperation with foreign nuclear programs, including the transfer of U.S. nuclear material, equipment, or technology, conforms to U.S. export control laws, meets Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements, and is used exclusively for peaceful purposes and not for the development of nuclear weapons,” write Kelsey Davenport and Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association. “A nuclear deal with Iran, however, will not involve the transfer of proliferation sensitive material, technology, or information from the United States. Instead, the P5+1 and Iran nuclear agreement will require Iran to meet specific requirements that effectively limit its capability to produce material that can be used for nuclear weapons and will put in place additional monitoring requirements to guard against any dash for nuclear weapons in the future. Subjecting the P5+1 and Iran agreement to the same legislative requirements as a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement is unnecessary, and it carries enormous risks for the success of a good P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.” [Kelsey Davenport and Daryl Kimball, 2/11/15]
Photo: Senator Bob Corker