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APN Legislative Round-Up - June 6, 2008

I. Bills and Resolutions; II. AIPAC on the Hill; III. Landrieu-Collins/Hoyer-Blunt-Berman-Ros-Lehtinen Letters; IV. Iran on the Agenda

...for the week ending June 6, 2008

I.   Bills and Resolutions
II.  AIPAC on the Hill
III.  Landrieu-Collins/Hoyer-Blunt-Berman-Ros-Lehtinen Letters
IV. Iran on the Agenda

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I. BILLS AND RESOLUTIONS
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(IRAQ-ISRAEL) H. Res. 1249: Introduced 6/5/08 by Rep. Hastings (D-FL), Berkley (D-NV), Crowley (D-NY) and Hare (D-IL), "Urging the Government of the Republic of Iraq to recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist and to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

In his statement introducing the resolution, Rep. Hastings argued that "The United States has provided Iraq with nearly $50 billion in security and economic assistance to date, none of which has been repaid. Yet despite this enormous amount of aid, the Government of Iraq refuses to recognize Israel, the most reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East. This isn't right. Establishing ties with Israel would help Iraq grow. Since its birth in 1948, Israel has emerged as a worldwide leader and expert in the agricultural, medical, and technological fields. Israel has the ability to forge a unique partnership with Iraq which would greatly benefit from the skills and knowledge of the Israeli workforce. Trade between the two countries would also help Iraq build an economy that is vibrant and independent of the energy sector while helping to foster democracy in the heart of the Middle East. This will never happen, however, unless Iraq moves beyond the draconian rhetoric of the past and recognizes Israel's right to exist. The resolution I am introducing today calls on the Government of Iraq to recognize Israel's right to exist and establish diplomatic relations with our Middle Eastern friend. My resolution also calls on Iraq and other states to work with Israel and the U.S. in fighting the spread of extremism and terrorism throughout the world. Finally, the resolution urges the Administration to persuade Iraq and other countries to recognize Israel's right to exist. I urge my colleagues to support this important resolution which encourages the Government of Iraq to finally recognize our great ally's right to exist. I call on the leadership of the House to support this resolution."

(CLUSTER MUNITIONS) H. J. Res. 91: Introduced 6/5/08 by Rep. McGovern (D-MA) and two cosponsors, "Expressing the sense of Congress that the United States should sign the Declaration of the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions and future instruments banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  (IRAN) HR 6178: Introduced 6/4/08 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and three cosponsors, "To strengthen existing legislation sanctioning persons aiding and facilitating nonproliferation activities by the governments of Iran, North Korea, and Syria, and for other purposes." Referred to Foreign Affairs Committee; the Ways and Means Committee; the Judiciary Committee; the Oversight and Government Reform Committee; and the Financial Services Committee.

(CLUSTER MUNITIONS) S. J. Res. 37: Introduced 6/3/08 by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) and five cosponsors, "expressing the sense of Congress that the United States should sign the Declaration of the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions and future instruments banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

(IRAN) S. Res. 580: Introduced 6/2/08 by Sen. Bayh (D-IN) and two cosponsors, "expressing the sense of the Senate on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. As noted below, this resolution and its House companion, H. Con. Res. 362 (covered in the 5/23/08 edition of the Round-Up), are central lobbying action items for AIPAC on the Hill this week. As of open of business on 6/6/08, S. Res. 580 had a total of nine cosponsors and H. Con. Res. 362 had a total of 91 cosponsors (i.e., seven Senators had signed on to S. Res. 580 since the AIPAC Hill day, and during that same period, 90 House members had signed on to H. Con. Res. 362).

A "Bill Summary" distributed at the AIPAC Policy Conference describes the resolutions as follows:

Resolution Calls for Tougher Sanctions on Iran

Members of the House have introduced a resolution (H. Con. Res. 362) declaring that Iran's illicit nuclear program constitutes a threat to America's national security that must be dealt with urgently, calling on the president to impose tough sanctions on Tehran. The resolution, introduced by Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Mike Pence (R-IN), notes that Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon would destabilize the strategic balance in the Middle East and undermine the global nonproliferation regime. The resolution states explicitly that nothing in it should be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and John Thune (R-SD) are expected to introduce a similar resolution in the Senate.

KEY PROVISIONS:

- Declares that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability-through all appropriate economic, political and diplomatic means-is vital to the national security interests of the United States and must be dealt with urgently. - Urges the president to impose sanctions on:     - Iran's Central Bank and any Iranian bank engaged in proliferation activities or the support of terrorist groups;     - International banks that conduct transactions with outlawed Iranian banks;     - Energy companies investing $20 million or more in Iran's petroleum or natural gas sector;     - All companies conducting business with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is a key part of the country's military and is responsible for carrying out terrorist acts throughout the world. The IRGC also controls 30 percent of the Iranian economy. - Demands that the president lead an international effort to cut off exports of refined petroleum to Iran. - Urges the president to support the legitimate governments in the Middle East against Iranian efforts to destabilize them and to make clear to Iran that America will protect its national security interests in the Middle East.


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II.  AIPAC ON THE HILL
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This week is the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC. Details of the conference and its program (including speeches by various political figures) can be viewed at: www.aipac.org. Talking points and background on key items on the AIPAC legislative agenda can be viewed at: http://aipac.org/For_Hill_Staff/index.asp.

Rather than try to summarize AIPAC's policy agenda and Hill agenda for this week, the Legislative Round-Up presents here the full text of the AIPAC FACTS sheet for Day 3 of Policy Conference.

Also, it is worth noting that on June 2nd the AIPAC Executive Committee adopted the annual Action Agenda. As part of this Agenda, the Committee adopted an amendment offered by the ZOA's Mort Klein, to the effect that AIPAC in 2008 will be urging Fatah to amend and/or abrogate allegedly offensive clauses in the Fatah Charter. This issue has been covered in detail in the 10/19/07 and 4/4/08 editions of the Round-Up. It is mentioned here because there are two resolutions in Congress on this issue, both of which appear moribund (H. Res. 758, introduced 10/18/07 and currently having 26 cosponsors, and S. Res. 499, introduced 4/3/08 and currently having 3 cosponsors). It will be interesting to watch and see if the AIPAC adoption of this ZOA initiative will mean that these resolutions now pick up steam.

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Day 3 - AIPAC 2008 Policy Conference The 2008 AIPAC Agenda

Today, more than 5,000 AIPAC activists will lobby their members of Congress in some 500 meetings on Capitol Hill, focusing on strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship and American policy in the Middle East.

The 2007 AIPAC agenda reflects the organization's central mission of advancing American interests in the Middle East by strengthening the relationship between the United States and Israel, our most reliable ally in the region.

During today's meetings, AIPAC delegates will discuss several key legislative priorities: American security assistance to Israel; Congressional action aimed at stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; and separate House and Senate letters to President Bush supporting America's efforts to buttress the bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution, reiterating Israel's right to self-defense and calling on the Arab States to do more to reach out to Israel, support the Palestinian moderates and lay the groundwork for historical compromise by the Palestinians for peace.

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AIPAC urges continued support for critical U.S. foreign aid to Israel. - U.S. security assistance to Israel is the single most tangible expression of American support for Israel. This assistance promotes vital American interests in the Middle East, keeping our only democratic ally in the region strong and secure in the face of increasingly dangerous and destabilizing regional threats. - AIPAC supports the Administration's FY 2009 request for $2.55 billion in security assistance to Israel, as well as the entire foreign aid budget. The proposed aid to Israel represents the first year of a landmark 10-year, $30 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reached between Israel and the United States last year. - Subject to Congressional approval, the new 10-year plan for American aid to Israel pledges $30 billion in security assistance over the next decade. Under the agreement, assistance to Israel gradually increases over the next four years---before leveling off at $3.1 billion for the remaining six years. - In signing the MOU, then-Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns stressed "a secure and strong Israel is in the interests of the United States," and that the agreement represents a vital U.S. "investment in peace."

AIPAC supports legislation aimed at increasing the pressure on Iran to end its illicit pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. - AIPAC will lobby in support of H. Con. Res. 362 and its companion legislation in the Senate [S. Res. 580, introduced after these talking points were printed], aimed at increasing the economic and political pressure on Iran in order to persuade Tehran to halt its illicit nuclear program. [See section I of the Round-Up, above, for details]. - The House resolution was introduced by House Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Ranking Member Mike Pence (R-IN). The Senate resolution was introduced by Senate Armed Services Committee members Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD). - In an effort to starve Iran of the cash it needs to finance its nuclear pursuit, the bill demands that President Bush sanction Iran's Central Bank and other international banks dealing with outlawed Iranian financial institutions. - Iran imports 40 percent of its refined petroleum. Restricting Iran's access to such a product could force the regime to change course on it [sic] nuclear program. Seeking to exploit these vulnerabilities, the resolution demands that the United States lead an international effort to curtail Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products. - The bill also urges the administration to sanction oil companies investing in Iran's oil and gas sector and penalize foreign companies doing business with the Iran's [sic] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. - A nuclear-capable Iran poses a direct threat to the security of the United States and its allies and threatens to spark a dangerous nuclear arms race in an already destabilized region. To change Iran's course, the United States and the international community must use every economic, diplomatic and political tool available to further increase the pressure on the regime to end its illicit nuclear program.

AIPAC backs Congressional action calling on the administration to stand strongly with Israel as it defends its citizens and pursues peace. - AIPAC will lobby in support of two Congressional letters to President Bush supporting America's efforts to buttress the bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution, reiterating Israel's right to self-defense, and calling on the Arab States to do more to reach out to Israel, support the Palestinian moderates and lay the groundwork for historic compromise by the Palestinians for peace. [See Section III of this Round-Up, below, for details]. - The Senate letter is being circulated by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The House letter is being circulated by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). - Both letters urge the administration to continue to stand strongly with Israel at the United Nations and other international forums and support the Jewish state as it pursues peace negotiations with its neighbors.  They also call for Secretary Rice to press Arab states to take concrete steps to support Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. [note: It is not clear what this last sentence refers to. The letters are addressed to President Bush, not Secretary Rice, and the only call they make with regard to Arab states is for the President to "demand that the Arab states do more ["far more" in the House version] to support those [Israeli/Palestinian] negotiations."] - While Israel has proven its commitment to negotiating with the Palestinians and facilitating humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, Arab leaders have not demonstrated a serious commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Despite record oil profits, members of the Arab League have provided the Palestinian Authority with less than one-third ($215 million out of $717.1 million) of promised assistance. - Arab states can demonstrate a serious commitment to ending the conflict by providing PA President Mahmoud Abbas with the critical financial and political support he needs to fight terrorism and continuing to isolate Hamas. Arab states must also take steps to normalize relations with Israel and prepare their own people for peace with the Jewish state.


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III. LANDRIEU-COLLINS LETTER, HOYER-BLUNT-BERMAN-ROS-LEHTINEN LETTER
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As noted above, nearly identical letters are being circulated in the House and Senate in the context of the AIPAC policy conference. The full text of these letters (with differences between the House and Senate versions noted) is copied below. The Senate letter is being circulated by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The House letter is being circulated by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

It may be recalled that last year, there was a serious controversy surrounding the letter circulated in the Senate in the context of the AIPAC policy conference. That letter, spearheaded by Sens. Nelson (D-FL) and Ensign (R-PA), called for barring U.S. contact with any Palestinian officials or politicians, including Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, and other members of the government or Palestine Legislative Council who are in no way affiliated with Hamas or any other terrorist group, in the event that a national unity government including Hamas was formed. The letter was eventually amended and improved. For details of this controversy, please see the 3/9/07, 3/15/07, 3/23/07, and 3/30/07 editions of the Round-Up.

In contrast, this year's letter does not include any similar hidden landmines. That said, it still has significant problems:

-- It represents an unbalanced, unconstructive view of the current situation. While enumerating the very real challenges and threats facing Israel (which were dealt with in a much more serious and constructive way in the recent Price-LaHood letter), there is not even a passing reference to the humanitarian disaster on the ground in Gaza. Likewise, there is no mention of the continuing problems of settlements/outpost growth and checkpoints in the West Bank, and the challenges these pose to the credibility and viability (and survival) of President Abbas' leadership and support for moderate Palestinians political positions.

-- It contains unnecessary Iran-baiting (in very categorical terms in the Senate version, and in slightly more measured terms in the House version).

-- It appears to be building a defense, in advance, for a large Israeli military offensive in Gaza -- one that may involve the sort of casualties that would provoke international criticisms and a rebuke from the UN.

-- When criticizing Arab states for being insufficiently engaged politically in peace, it completely ignores the Arab League Initiative, which remains an historic and insufficiently explored Arab initiative for peace and normalization with Israel. It also ignores the fact that the failure to achieve any real progress on the ground (in terms of things like dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, settlements, outposts, and checkpoints) makes Arab states' role in supporting Annapolis much more complicated (just as it makes it much harder for Abbas to have credibility with his own people). It also ignores engagement by Arab states that the authors apparently do not approve of -- like working to help achieve a ceasefire or to mediate the Fatah-Hamas crisis (mainly be Egypt, but also by Saudi Arabia).

-- Similarly, when criticizing Arab states for being insufficiently engaged economically in supporting the Palestinians, it ignores completely things like the recent Qatari initiative to build a new Palestinian city and things like the recent Bethlehem conference, which drew investors mainly from the Gulf. It also ignores the problems facing all donors to the Palestinians, in terms of barriers to the movement of funds to the Palestinians as part of the international effort to squeeze Hamas. It also ignores the reality on the ground, where the huge problem of movement and access into and within the West Bank represents an almost insurmountable barrier to productive investment.

-- Finally, when criticizing Arab states for insufficiently supporting Abbas, it ignores the fact that Congress -- and AIPAC -- have continually raised obstacles to the U.S. government supporting Abbas. This began immediately after Abbas was elected President (well before the legislative elections that brought Hamas to power and complicated U.S. aid programs), when Congress sent a very strong message of lack of confidence in and support for Abbas by placing far-reaching restrictions and conditions on aid to the Palestinians (in addition to restrictions that existed when Arafat was alive). Congress followed up with the totally superfluous and unconstructive Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act -- superfluous because US law already barred any aid to Hamas or any other terrorist organization, and unconstructive because it just added more layers of conditioning and restrictions on aid the Abbas.

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Text of the Landrieu-Collins Letter (with notations in brackets indicated where the text of the Hoyer-Blunt-Berman-Ros-Lehtinen Letter differs)

Dear Mr. President:

The State of Israel has much to celebrate--and be proud of--in the sixty years since it was established. Yet, in those six decades, Israel has failed to enjoy one day of real peace. We commend you for your continued leadership in promoting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and genuinely hope they will lead to positive results. [House version: "We commend you for your leadership in promoting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The State of Israel has much to celebrate--and be proud of--in the sixty years since it was established. Yet tragically, in those six decades, Israel has yet to enjoy one day of real peace, We wish you the best of luck in your efforts, and genuinely hope they will lead to positive results."]

We are, however, deeply concerned about recent negative developments in the area. The first is the situation in Gaza. As you know [so well], Israelis living along the border with Gaza have been inundated with [bombarded with] unprovoked rocket fire virtually almost every day [virtually daily] since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August[,] 2005. Palestinian terrorists have fired over 4,000 rockets and mortars from Gaza into southern Israel during that period, terrorizing the population of Sderot and other border towns. Over a dozen innocent Israelis have been killed [They have killed over a dozen innocent Israelis], and thousands more have been injured or traumatized [and have injured or traumatized thousands more]. Living a normal life in these towns has become impossible. [House adds sentence: Such deadly threats to Israeli civilians on a daily basis are unjustifiable and intolerable].

Compounding this problem, Hamas, which took over Gaza in an illegal coup last year and remains committed to Israel's destruction, has been rapidly improving the training and equipping of its forces. Aided by Iranian funding and support, Hamas has been [reportedly] smuggling long-range rockets [longer-range and more destructive rockets], anti tank missiles, anti aircraft missiles and other sophisticated weapons into Gaza, while Hamas personnel [reportedly] have been actively training in Iranian camps. Such a rapid military buildup is becoming a growing military [is a growing military threat] to Israel and increasingly threatens Israeli civilians.

With Hamas expanding its inventory of long range Katyusha rockets, they are able to reach larger cities like Ashkelon [At the same time, Hamas is expanding its inventory of longer range Katyusha rockets that are able to reach larger cities like Ashkelon], with a population of a quarter of a million. While you were in Israel celebrating its 60th anniversary, a Katyusha rocket from Gaza struck a mall in Ashkelon, wounding 90 civilians, including several children. At the same time [House version deletes this opening clause], Hamas has [also] acted against the interests of Gaza's population by attacking the civilian infrastructure used to provide humanitarian assistance such as food and fuel, and [using innocent Palestinians as human shields by] carrying out their rocket and other attacks from Palestinian civilian population centers. [House combines this and the preceding paragraph into one long paragraph]

Israel has demonstrated a great amount [enormous] restraint in the face of this constant provocation. Few countries [in the world] would have tolerated such risks to their populations. Nevertheless, Israel, like any other nation, has the right - and the obligation - to defend her citizens from external threats. As Israel struggles to deal with the growing challenges from Gaza, it becomes all the more important for us to continue to support openly and publicly Israel's right to self defense. We particularly urge you to [continue to] stand by Israel at the United Nations - where too many countries refuse to acknowledge Israel's right to act in her own defense - and [to] veto any one-sided U.N. resolution.

Finally, we must express our concern at [deepest disappointment with] the inadequate response of some opf [most of] the Arab world to the efforts of Israel and the Palestinians to reach a negotiated agreement. We [had] anticipated more from nations that have claimed [which claim that] reaching such an agreement is one of their top priorities. We struggle to understand [find it hard to comprehend] why those Arab states, that are flush with oil revenues, cannot provide meaningful financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority. At last year's donors' conference many pledges were made, most of which have yet to be fulfilled [Instead, they offered only meager pledges at last year's donors' conference, and most of those have yet to be met]. Saudi Arabia, which as a result of oil revenues had a budget surplus in 2007 of $47.6 billion [which thanks to oil revenues had a budget SURPLUS in 2007 of $47.6 billion], has provided a paltry $61.6 million to the Palestinian Authority. That is not a serious commitment to this process. Furthermore, most Arab states have done little [virtually nothing] to advance a policy of recognition of Israel or reconciliation with Israel. They have [also] not provided the type of public political support Palestinian leaders will need in order to make the necessary compromises for peace. We must make it clear to our Arab friends that this process cannot succeed without their active financial, moral and political support, and that they bear a large responsibility for its success - or failure.

Mr. President, we know you face many challenges in the Middle East [and elsewhere] over the next few months. We urge you to continue your efforts to advance the Israel/Palestinian negotiations, to support Israel's right to self defense against the growing threats from Gaza, and to demand that the Arab states do [far] more to support those negotiations. We look forward to working with you to advance these critical objectives.


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IV. IRAN ON THE AGENDA
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Congress continues to devote a great deal of attention to Iran. In addition to the AIPAC-backed resolutions on Iran in the House and Senate, and the new Iran sanctions bill introduced in the House (all discussed in sections I and II, above):

- on 6/5/08 the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee held a hearing entitled "More Than Just Enrichment: Iran's Strategic Aspirations and the Future of the Middle East." Chairman Ackerman's opening statement noted that ".We are in Iraq largely because we, as a nation, didn't think. We can't afford to make the same mistake twice. To face the challenge from Iran we must start by learning and questioning. What are Iran's strategic aspirations? Who controls Iran's foreign policy? Are there schisms and weaknesses in Iran's political system that we can exploit? How do Iran's leaders see their country's place in the world, and what does that imply about our ability to effect its foreign policy choices? What's behind the rhetoric-especially the threats to Israel and the repellent Holocaust denial? Who controls the balance between ideology and realpolitik in Iranian security policy? The threat from Iran to our vital national security interests is real. It is real, but I am absolutely convinced it is manageable." His entire statement and statements of other witnesses, plus a webcast of the hearing, are available at: http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/sub_mideast.asp

- on 6/12/08 the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (full committee will hold a hearing entitled "Russia, Iran, and Nuclear Weapons: Implications of the Proposed U.S.-Russia Agreement."

- the Senate Finance Committee is reportedly set to mark up S. 970, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, on 6/18/08. Senate sources report that language in the bill related to Iran-Russia relations may have been removed. If this is true, it means that one major obstacle to passage of the bill in the Senate has been removed. As noted in the 4/25/08 edition of the Round-Up, on 4/8/08 the Finance Committee held a hearing about S. 970. During that hearing, several senators and witnesses (including those supportive of S. 970) raised concerns about certain elements of the bill and argued that the bill needed to be amended.


For more information, contact Lara Friedman, APN Director of Policy and Government Relations, at 202/728-1893, or at lfriedman@peacenow.org.