ACTION ALERT: Oppose S. 1881 — AIPAC-backed Sanctions Bill Designed to Start US-Iran War

January 13th, 2014 - by admin

Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy & Ryan Grim / The Huffington Post & Bradley Klapper / Associated Press – 2014-01-13 00:22:10

Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy

At this writing, 54 Senators — 38 Republicans and 16 Democrats — have co-sponsored S. 1881, the bill pushed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders have warned would blow up US diplomacy with Iran and put us on the path to another disastrous Middle East war.

But we can still stop AIPAC’s war bill. AIPAC doesn’t decide what gets Senate consideration. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid does. AIPAC is trying to pressure Senate Majority Leader Reid into calling the bill for a vote by piling on co-sponsors.

If we can stop AIPAC from piling more Senate cosponsors on to the bill, Majority Leader Reid won’t be pressured to call the bill for a vote.

You can do something about this.

Call your Senators. Call the Capitol Switchboard toll-free at 1-855-686-6927. When the person in your Senator’s office picks up, say:
“I urge Senator ____ to oppose S. 1881, which the U.S. intelligence community has warned would destroy the possibility of a diplomatic agreement with Iran, putting us on the path to war.”

When you’re done, report your call with our easy response form:

(You can check to see if your Senators have cosponsored the bill here.)

Lobbying for Iran War,
AIPAC’s Napkin Is Half-Empty

Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy

(January 1, 2014) — You may have noticed that sometimes participants in a political fight put significant energy into getting media to accept their definition of what “winning” is.

Now comes the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, lobbying the Democratic Senate for war with Iran. AIPAC wants the Democratic Senate to pass S. 1881, a new Iran sanctions bill, over the strong objections of the Obama administration.

The administration and ten Senate Democratic committee chairs, along with the US intelligence community say that passage of S. 1881 would blow up US diplomacy with Iran and put the US on a path to yet another disastrous Middle East war.

At this writing, S. 1881 has 54 co-sponsors: 38 Republicans and 16 Democrats (counting Menendez, the lead sponsor.)

Here’s the goal that AIPAC needs to reach to claim victory, according to a Fox News report on December 27:

A total of 47 co-sponsors are now behind the legislation introduced by [New Jersey Sen. Robert] Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Supporters are hoping to reach a 67-member, veto-proof majority.

Here’s the goal that AIPAC needs to reach to claim victory, according to a Reuters report on January 6:

While the bill has gained support, it remains uncertain if backers can put together the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to override a veto by President Barack Obama.

These media accounts beg the question: what exactly is the significance of a “veto-proof majority” in this situation? Who decided at which meeting that would be the threshold for AIPAC to claim victory?

It’s true that the Administration has promised to veto the bill if the Senate passes it. But if the Senate never passes the bill, President Obama will never have to veto it. The bill can’t be passed if it never gets Senate action. AIPAC doesn’t decide what gets Senate action. Majority Leader Reid decides what gets Senate action.

So there’s an unstated assumption here: if AIPAC can get 67 co-sponsors, it can bend Harry Reid to its will. But why should 67 be the magic number that AIPAC has to achieve to bend Harry Reid to its will?

That’s not how things generally work over in the Republican House. In the Republican House, for a bill to see action it generally has to satisfy something called the “Hastert Rule”: it has to be supported by the “majority of the majority,” that is, by the majority of Republicans.

55 Senators caucus as Democrats. So the “majority of the majority” in this case would be 28 Democrats, counting Bernie Sanders and Angus King as Democrats.

It certainly would be very appropriate for Majority Leader Reid to apply the Hastert Rule in this case. Blowing up President Obama’s diplomacy with Iran would be the foreign policy equivalent of repealing ObamaCare. If 67 Senators signed a bill to repeal ObamaCare, and 45 of them were Republicans, do you think Harry Reid would call that bill for a vote?

Suppose AIPAC could get all 45 Senate Republicans (7 more) to cosponsor the Menendez-Kirk bill. Then they would only need 22 Senate Democrats (6 more) to get to 67. That is, they could get to a “veto-proof majority” while only having a minority of Democrats.

Thus, if the thing that matters is a “majority of the majority,” then a “veto-proof majority” is irrelevant. The number that matters is not 67 Senators, but 28 Democrats.

If currently, AIPAC has 54 Senators, among whom 16 are Democrats, then the key hurdle they have to overcome to claim victory is not to recruit 13 Senators to reach 67, but to recruit 12 Democratic Senators to reach 28, a significantly higher bar, given that any Democratic Senator who signs the bill is clearly sticking a thumb in the eye of President Obama and 10 Democratic committee chairs.

Some might say: how can you be happy when 54 Senators have signed their names for blowing up diplomacy? I freely concede: it’s certainly not a good thing that half the Senate, including 16 Democrats, are Diplomacy Birthers, demanding long-form birth certificates to prove that senior US diplomats were not born in Tehran.

But context matters. Holding AIPAC to 54 Senators is like holding Garry Kasparov to a draw, or “going the distance” against Apollo Creed. “We’ve got one lonely little guy down here,” President George H.W. Bush joked in 1991, when he stood alone against AIPAC’s lobbying onslaught for US aid to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. These are the people who claimed that in 24 hours, they could get 70 Senators to sign a napkin.

It’s been 21 days since AIPAC’s Blow Up Diplomacy bill was introduced. But they don’t have 70 Senators on AIPAC’s Blow Up Diplomacy Napkin yet — they have only 54.

This matters because people who believe that resistance is futile are less likely to resist, and the belief that resistance is futile can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If AIPAC’s war bill never gets Senate consideration, then AIPAC loses and diplomacy wins.

Whatever number of Senators we need to keep off of AIPAC’s war bill to keep Harry Reid from letting it be considered by the Senate, that’s the number of Senators we need to keep off the bill to defeat AIPAC’s push for war.

Thanks to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, you can call your Senators toll-free at 1-855-686-6927 in opposition to AIPAC’s Blow Up Diplomacy Napkin. You can quickly report the results of your call here.

White House Dares Democratic Senators Pushing Iran Sanctions
To Admit They Want War

Ryan Grim / The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON (January 9, 2014) — The White House on Thursday challenged a group of senators to admit they are working to push the country toward war with Iran, upping the tension between the administration and Senate advocates of tough new sanctions amid nuclear negotiations.

“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”

The “certain members” the White House is referring to are led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who is pushing legislation, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that would tighten sanctions on the Iranian regime despite the ongoing negotiations.

Advocates of a peace deal with Iran warn that toughening sanctions now strengthens the hand of hard-liners in Iran who can argue the U.S. is not negotiating in good faith.

The White House has consistently signaled its opposition to the bill, warning that it could unravel the delicate talks underway, and has promised a veto if it passes. But Thursday’s statement is the first public accusation that the senators pushing the bill may have motivations they are not “up front with.”

The bill is backed by a majority of the Senate. A Democratic leadership aide told HuffPost Thursday there were no plans to bring the bill to the floor soon.

After Menendez introduced his bill, 10 Democratic committee chairs released a joint letter warning his action could move the nation closer to war. At least 14 other Democrats have so far joined Menendez in bucking the administration.

“It’s important to remember that it was sanctions that brought the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place,” Adam Sharon, Menendez’s spokesperson, told HuffPost. “The preferred outcome is successful negotiations conducted by the Obama Administration and our allies that results in a peaceful and verifiable termination of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

“Prospective sanctions reinforce this objective should the Iranians fail to negotiate in good faith,” he continued. “This legislation endorses the Obama administration’s efforts, supports continued negotiations, gives the administration a year of flexibility to secure an agreement, respects the sanctions relief Iran is set to receive, and prevents any new sanctions from taking effect while good-faith negotiations are underway.”

Below is Meehan’s statement in full:
This bill is in direct contradiction to the Administration’s work to peacefully resolve the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program. We know that this proposed legislation would divide the international community, drive the Iranians to take a harder line, and possibly end negotiations.

This bill would have a negative bearing on the sanctions regime too. Let us not forget: sanctions work because we convinced our partners to take the steps that we seek. If our partners no longer believe that we are serious about finding a negotiated solution, then our sanctions regime would suffer.

If Congress passes this bill, it will be proactively taking an action that will make diplomacy less likely to succeed. The American people have been clear that they prefer a peaceful resolution to this issue. If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so.

Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.

The President has been clear that he has a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means, before he pursues alternatives. Passing new sanctions legislation right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution.

Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

Iran Sanctions Push Gains Supporters in Senate
Bradley Klapper / Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC (January 10, 2014) — Fifty-nine senators now back a new sanctions package they say would increase the pressure on Iran to make nuclear concessions, congressional aides said Friday. The count brings Congress closer to passing a bill the Obama administration considers a threat to a historic diplomatic opportunity.

The senators in favor include every Republican except Jeff Flake of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky, aides said. Sixteen Democrats are on board including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a top ally of President Barack Obama. Many more are understood to be sitting on the fence.

With the House of Representatives strongly backing more economic pressure on Tehran, the Senate is now close to the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation. And advocates are not far away from rounding up the 67 votes they would need to override a presidential veto, which the White House has vowed if the bill makes it out of Congress. Aides provided the latest tally on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Administration officials fear the new economic restrictions could jeopardize a breakthrough interim nuclear deal that world powers reached with Iran in Geneva in November, as well as ongoing negotiations on a final agreement that would end the threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons.

By scuttling the diplomatic chances, the administration argues, Congress would be making a potential war with Iran more likely.

“The need for additional prospective sanctions is already clear,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who drafted the bill, said Friday. Since the interim accord, he argued, Iran has made several announcements related to its uranium and plutonium programs that reinforce the need for Washington not to let up on the pressure. “This is hardly a march to war,” Menendez said.

The legislation would blacklist several Iranian industrial sectors and threaten banks and companies around the world with being banned from the US market if they help Iran export any more oil. The provisions would only take effect if Tehran violates the six-month interim deal or lets it expire without a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Twenty-six senators co-sponsored the bill when it was introduced last month. Despite the growing tide of support among Democrats and Republicans, several key lawmakers still are opposed.

Ten Democratic committee chairmen, including influential senators such as Dianne Feinstein of California and Carl Levin of Michigan, have urged a pause in sanctions while the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners test whether Iran’s moderate-leaning President Hassan Rouhani will adhere to the Geneva agreement. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held off a vote during defense bill negotiations before Christmas.

The House approved similar legislation last July by a 400-20 vote and would likely pass the new sanctions by an overwhelming margin.

Sanctions advocates say the administration needs the added leverage of sanctions just around the corner to secure a better deal than the last one. In Geneva, world powers promised Tehran some $7 billion in sanctions relief for actions that only freeze, not dismantle, central elements of the nuclear program. Iran insists its program is solely for peaceful energy and medical research purposes.

But the Obama administration cites several concerns over the timing of the bill and the realism of enforcing provisions such as a global ban on Iranian oil exports by 2015.

The legislation “would be counterproductive,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday. He said new sanctions would provide Iran an opportunity to argue that the United States negotiated in bad faith and would undermine American cooperation with partners it needs to enforce international sanctions on Iran.

Russia may already be negotiating a multibillion-dollar oil deal with Iran that would be hard for the United States to block, according to analysts who closely follow Iran.

Despite their differences in other matters, Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have closely coordinated on nuclear nonproliferation matters. The US, Russia, Britain, China, France and Germany have been leading nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“I am very doubtful that Obama will take on Putin on this given his dependence on Russia ahead of the next round of nuclear negotiations,” said Mark Dubowitz, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Separately, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma introduced their own bill this week designed to curtail the ability of the administration to engage in bilateral negotiations with Iran.

The Associated Press reported last year that much of the Nov. 24 nuclear deal resulted from a series of secret meetings between US and Iranian officials. The key discussions took place in the Middle East sultanate of Oman and elsewhere over eight months.

But Cruz and Inhofe have asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to advance language conditioning any future US-Iranian talks on the Islamic republic releasing any US citizens being unjustly detained in its territory and affirming the “right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.”

If such a requirement was applied universally, the United States would essentially have to end diplomatic relations with the entire Arab world and many other countries.

The legislation will almost surely be ignored by the committee, though Menendez’s office declined to comment on its chances.

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