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APN Legislative Round-Up - June 20, 2008

I. Bills and Resolutions; II. More on H. Con. Res. 362/S. Res. 580 and the Issue of Naval Blockade; - III. New Iran Sanctions Bill -- "Iran Sanctions Act of 2008"; IV. Kirk Seeks to Bar Some Fulbrights; V. Statements on Israel at 60

...for the week ending June 20, 2008

I.   Bills and Resolutions
II.  More on H. Con. Res. 362/S. Res. 580 and the Issue of Naval Blockade
III. New Iran Sanctions Bill -- "Iran Sanctions Act of 2008"
IV. Kirk Seeks to Bar Some Fulbrights
V.  Statements on Israel at 60


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I. BILLS AND RESOLUTIONS
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(SUPPLEMENT APPROPRIATIONS) HR 2642: Originally introduced on 6/11/07 as a bill "Making appropriations for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes," this bill transformed into the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (the war supplemental). It has bounced back and forth between the House and Senate several times. In the latest action on 6/19/08, the House approved the latest version of the bill and sent it back to the Senate, which appears somewhat more likely to agree this time around, clearing the way for the bill to be sent to the President. As noted in previous editions of the Round-Up, the bill included substantial funding for the Middle East (for the most recent details, see the 5/23/08 edition of the Round-Up). For further reporting on the state-of-play of this bill, see: http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docid=news-000002901365

(IRAN) S. XXXX: A bill set to be introduced by Sen. Baucus (D-MT) , entitled "Iran Sanctions Act of 2008." While not formally introduced yet, the bill was marked up in the Senate Finance Committee on 6/18/08. See section III, below, for more details.

(SEEDS OF PEACE) H. Con. Res. 337: Introduced 4/29/08 by Rep. Allen (D-ME) and having 51 cosponsors, "Honoring Seeds of Peace for its 15th anniversary as an organization promoting understanding, reconciliation, acceptance, coexistence, and peace in the Middle East, South Asia, and other regions of conflict." 6/18/2008 Passed/agreed to in Senate. Status: Resolution agreed to in Senate without amendment and with a preamble by Unanimous Consent.

(ARAB MEDIA) H. Res. 1127: Introduced 4/22/08 by Rep. Ackerman (D-NY) and currently having 35 cosponsors, "Condemning the endemic restrictions on freedom of the press and media and public expression in the Middle East and the concurrent and widespread presence of anti-Semitic material, Holocaust denial, and incitement to violence in the Arab media and press." Brought to the House floor 6/18/08 under suspension of the rules and agreed by a voice vote.

(SAUDI ARABIA) HR 6298: Introduced 6/18/08 by Rep. Markey (D-MA) and 10 cosponsors, "To restrict nuclear cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. In his remarks introducing the resolution, Rep. Markey noted, ".The United States should be helping the Kingdom exploit its enormous solar energy potential, not building nuclear reactors. That's why this bill also encourages the President to establish a solar power development and assistance program with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia..This is not a political issue; this is a national security issue. We've already seen the extraordinarily high cost of spreading so-called `peaceful' nuclear technologies around the world: we've been paying that price for decades. The United States simply cannot afford to make this kind of mistake again.We're in a race to prevent the spread of dangerous nuclear technologies any further, before these technologies can be used against us or our allies. Providing nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, a country for whom such technology makes no economic sense for electricity generation, is short-sighted and dangerous."


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II.  MORE ON H. CON. RES. 362/S. RES. 580 AND THE ISSUE OF NAVAL BLOCKADE
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Last week's Round-Up discussed language contained in H. Con. Res. 362 and S. Res. 580 calling for a cut-off of Iranian access to refined petroleum products. It included analysis to the effect that the resolutions appear to call for, or at least support, a naval blockade of Iran.

In response, Hill sources have argued strongly and credibly that the intention of the resolutions is neither to call for nor support a naval blockade of Iran, and emphasizing other language in the resolutions stating that the resolutions should not be construed as authorizing the use of force. This argument is both welcome and reassuring, and it is hoped that when these resolutions are discussed or voted on, Members of Congress will take the opportunity to further clarify this intent.

For more on this issue, see: http://irannuclearwatch.blogspot.com/2008/06/sanctions-resolution-raises-controversy.html


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III. NEW IRAN SANCTIONS BILL - "IRAN SANCTIONS ACT OF 2008"
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On 6/18/08 the Senate Finance Committee marked up a bill entitled "the Iran Sanctions Act of 2008." As of this writing the bill has not yet been formally introduced (so there is not bill number or official bill text), but a summary is available on the website of the Senate Finance Committee (link is included below).

The bill appears to be largely a re-hash of S. 970, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, which was passed by the House last year but has stalled in the Senate, in part over concerns that it would undermine international cooperation on Iran policy and that it conflicts with U.S. interests relating to cooperation with Russia. It is not clear how the new bill is expected to succeed where S. 970 has failed, given that both of these problems remain. Indeed, Secretary Rice has written a letter to Sen. Baucus expressing the Administration's opposition to the new bill, and the Finance Committee mark-up witnessed an effort to remove Russia-related language from the bill (an effort that failed). The bill should next be marked up in the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There are also reportedly efforts underway to attach it to another piece of "must-pass" legislation.

For further coverage of this bill and its likely course in the Senate, see: http://irannuclearwatch.blogspot.com/2008/06/senate-finance-committee-approves-iran.html

For the text of Secretary Rice's letter opposing the bill, see: http://irannuclearwatch.blogspot.com/2008/06/letter-from-condoleezza-rice-opposing.html

For the Senate Finance Committee's summary of the bill, see: (http://www.senate.gov/~finance/sitepages/leg/LEG%202008/061308%20description%20of%20Iran%20Sanctions.pdf). 


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IV. KIRK SEEKS TO BAR SOME FULBRIGHTS
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The recent controversy over the U.S. government decision to revoke, and then reinstate, Fulbright Scholarships for students in Gaza, drew attention to the very troubling impact of an Israeli ban on students from Gaza studying abroad. Israeli politicians and even members of the Israeli High Court of Justice spoke publicly about the importance of fixing the problem, for the sake of both peoples. For more details about the issue, see: http://www.gisha.org/

Apparently taking a different approach to the issue, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) on 6/10/08 reportedly sent a letter to the Acting Inspector General of the U.S. Department of State making the case that awarding Fulbright scholarships to graduates of the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) - an institution linked to Hamas - violates U.S. anti-terrorism law. Three of the students involved in the recent controversy (when the U.S. revoked and then reinstated scholarships to students from Gaza) are graduates of the Islamic University of Gaza. (A first-person account of one experience with this Fulbright fiasco can be read at: http://www.gazafulbright.blogspot.com/

In his letter, Kirk notes that current U.S. law (which Kirk proudly notes he drafted) bars U.S. assistance from reaching entities or educational institutions "that have as a principal officer of the entity's governing board or governing board of trustees any individual that has been determined to be involved in, or advocating terrorist activity or determined to be a member of a designated foreign terrorist organization."

Based on this, Kirk argues, in effect, that individuals who are graduates of or in any way affiliated with such entities or institutions are automatically barred from receiving any U.S. funding, including scholarships to study in the U.S. Following this logic, Kirk concludes that "the State Department's decision to award Fulbright Scholarships to employees or affiliates of Islamic University in Gaza is a direct violation of new U.S. law." His letter notes that in response to concerns he had expressed, on 6/9/08 the State Department sent a "justification" to his office, noting that the "The U.S. Consulate does not deal with IUG as an institution because of its links to Hamas. However, we continue to accept applications from individual students and professors. These applications go through the same vetting process as all other USG funded grantees."  Kirk asserts that this justification "may show a violation of U.S. law" and urges the Inspector General to "investigate the Department's compliance with U.S. law and offer recommendations to update the Department's compliance mechanism so that U.S. taxpayer money never again ends up in the hands of those affiliated with institutions controlled by certified foreign terrorist organizations in violation of U.S. law."


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V. STATEMENTS ON ISRAEL AT 60
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As the Israel at 60 celebrations wind down, a few additional statements were made on the floor or inserted into the record this week by Rep. Drake (R-VA), 6/17/08; Rep. Hodes (D-NH), 6/17/08; and Rep. Frank (D-MA), 6/18/09. The remarks of both Reps. Hodes and Frank, which both dealt with the quest for peace, are included below.

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Rep. Hodes (D-NH)
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"Mr. Speaker, just last month, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel. Last year, I was privileged to take my first trip to the Promised Land. Israel is the birthright for Jews around the world. As our staunchest ally, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, but to Jews, it is much more. It is the homeland, the true community that my own Jewish ancestors dreamed of when hounded by anti-Semitism, repression and violence.

"To truly honor Israel on this 60th anniversary, we must seek a true, lasting peace from committed partners to provide for Israel's long-term survival, security and prosperity. For Jews in America, we owe it to our ancestors to protect the Jewish homeland that they toiled for centuries to achieve. We owe to it our grandparents and to our great grandparents who never saw the Promised Land. We owe it to our children and to our grandchildren, who must always know a world with a Jewish homeland. We owe them peace in our time."

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Rep. Frank (D-MA)
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"I want to express the strong feelings that I and many others have on the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. Israel was created by a U.N. resolution 60 years ago. People who have stressed the importance of U.N. resolutions with regard to the Middle East sometimes forget to note that when a U.N. resolution was passed which created the State of Israel in a fairly small part of what had then been Palestine, it evoked violent opposition from almost all of Israel's neighbors. That is, those countries which launched an armed attack aimed at obliterating Israel as it was born, in defiance of a U.N. resolution, do not come with clean hands when they talk now about living up to every U.N. resolution. That's no reason to ignore them, but it is a context that ought to be clear.

"There are a number of perspectives that people bring to the existence of Israel and its history. There is one that I want to talk about in particular as a liberal. By all of the values that motivate me to be in public life, the State of Israel is the only nation in the Middle East today that qualifies as a nation that respects them. Whether it is the principle of nondiscrimination--and some things are very controversial in their own country--the rights of women, free speech, the rights of gay men and lesbians, Israel stands out by a very strong margin over all of its neighbors.

"I do want to address some of my friends on the left who are critical of some of the geopolitical aspects of this. It's legitimate to do it. Indeed, if you want to hear criticism of the approach Israel takes towards the peace process or the question of settlements, one of the best places to go is Israel. Because unlike every other Middle East nation, Israel is a place where democracy thrives. Indeed, one of the important lessons the existence of Israel teaches the world is that those who argue that if you have threats to your national security, democracy becomes a luxury, are wrong.

"Israel was born under attack. It has lived its entire 60 years to date with the great hostility of its neighbors. It has fought a number of wars. And it is today confronted by many nations, Iran, for example, that profess to be interested in its obliteration. Despite that, it has maintained a strong democracy; governments win and governments lose. And the Israeli High Court has a record, frankly, that in some ways exceeds our own U.S. Supreme Court in vindicating civil liberties.

"Now, having said that, I will add that I am critical of some aspects of Israel policy. The point, however, is that that's a right that people have within Israel to exercise those differences that others don't. I thought the recent comments by Secretary Rice that were somewhat critical of what Israel was doing were useful in helping move towards the peace process. On the other hand, it ought to be clear, and I do believe Israel should continue to maintain its willingness to withdraw from most of the West Bank, I think they should be removing settlements, but it must be remembered, Israel did withdraw from southern Lebanon and it did withdraw from Gaza in the face of a good deal of controversy at home, one under Prime Minister Barak, one under Prime Minister Sharon, of two different parties. Tragically, in both cases, Israel's voluntary withdrawal was followed by the entrenchment in those two areas of organizations dedicated not simply to territorial change, but to Israel's obliteration, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza. And they have used those places from which Israel withdrew as bases for attacks. I understand the emotional reaction that says, `We'll never do that again.' I think it would be wrong; I do not think it would be in Israel's best interest. That does not mean they should not be able to defend themselves, of course they should.

"But the fundamental point is this: Yes, there are serious issues about how to pursue peace. Nowhere are they more openly debated than within Israel itself, and that is one of the great glories of its 60 years."


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