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APN Legislative Round-Up for the week ending November 4, 2011

1. Bills, Resolutions and Letters
2. HFAC Mark-Up Further Ratchets Up the Pressure on Iran
4. Odds and Ends

1. Bills, Resolutions and Letters

(IRAN SANCTIONS - and Syria too) HR 1905 and HR 2105: On 11/2/11 the House Committee on Foreign Affairs marked-up and passed HR 1905, "To strengthen Iran sanctions laws for the purpose of compelling Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and other threatening activities, and for other purposes" and H.R. 2105, "To provide for the application of measures to foreign persons who transfer to Iran, North Korea, and Syria certain goods, services, or technology, and for other purposes." For further details see section 2, below.

(TURKEY) H.J. Res.83: Introduced 11/3/11 by Rep. Berkley (D-NV) and 6 cosponsors, "Disapproving the issuance of a letter of offer with respect to a certain proposed sale of defense articles and defense services to Turkey." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
On 11/2/11 Reps. Engel and Berkley also issued a joint statement opposing U.S. arms sales to Turkey, on the grounds that Turkey "is threatening some of America's closest allies and supporting terrorist groups like Hamas."

(TURKEY) Engel et al letter Turkey letter: On 11/2/11 Rep. Engel (D-NY) and 6 other senior Jewish House members - Berman, D-CA), Lowey (D-NY), Berkley (D-NV), Sherman (D-CA), Israel (D-NY), and Schiff (D-CA) - sent a letter to President Obama blasting Turkey for a laundry list of sins (expelling the Israeli ambassador, not expelling the Syrian ambassador, behavior related to Cyprus, refusing to apologize for the Armenian genocide, and unspecified other actions) and stating that "the United States needs to undertake an urgent review of our relations with Turkey and our overall strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean." The letter concludes somewhat threateningly: "It is our hope that an intensified and frank dialogue with Turkey can convince Ankara to deescalate some of its rhetoric and roll-back its increasingly destabilizing policies. However, if that cannot be achieved, we look forward to working with your Administration to review the changed environment and develop an approach which better suits the situation."

(ADDITIONAL ISRAEL AID) Gillibrand et al letter supporting funding for U.S.-Israel energy cooperation: On 11/2/11, Senators Gillibrand (D-NY), Wyden (D-OR) and Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development urging them to allocate $2 million in funding for the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperative Agreement for FY2012. This funding, which is included in the House version of the bill, is in addition to the $3.1 billion in military aid provided in the ForOps bill (subject to early disbursal and much of which can be spent inside Israel, as discussed in the 7/29/11 edition of the Round-Up).

(UNESCO) Israel-Cole letter on UNESCO: On 10/28/11 Reps. Israel (D-NY) and Cole (R-OK) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on bizarre letter to Secretary Clinton regarding the Palestinian bid for UNESCO membership. The letter mainly (and perhaps unintentionally) makes the case that U.S. withdrawal of funds from UNESCO and other groups will hurt U.S. interests, but concludes not that the laws requiring this withdrawal of funds should be changed, but that because of this danger to U.S. interests, the Palestinians' effort "is an unacceptable route to recognition that we simply cannot validate." The letter gets even stranger from there, commending the Administration for "its efforts to block full membership of the Palestinian Authority in UNESCO, the UN Security Council and other UN agencies" - a statement that seems to indicate that the author of the letter doesn't understand even the basics about what is happening at the UN (where it is the PLO, not the PA, that is seeking membership, and whose efforts do not include seeking membership, full or otherwise, in the Security Council, whose non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly, not based on any application to the Security Council). The letter ends by urging the Secretary to "hold firm against this request and urge the UN Security Council to deny any bid for membership the Palestinian Authority submits" - another statement that makes no sense, given that the UN Security Council has no authority to deny any bid for membership in the various UN specialized and affiliated agencies, whether for the PLO (not the PA, again), or anyone else. The letter, which was sent the same day the Dear Colleague was circulated, was signed by: Israel (D-NY), Cole (R-OK), Richardson (D-CA), Rothman (D-NJ), Nadler (D-NY) and Grimm (R-NY).

2. HFAC Mark-Up Further Ratchets Up the Pressure on Iran

On 11/2/11 the House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up two bills aimed at imposing new sanctions on Iran (one of the bills also is aimed at Syria). These bills are HR 1905, "To strengthen Iran sanctions laws for the purpose of compelling Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and other threatening activities, and for other purposes" and HR 2105, "To provide for the application of measures to foreign persons who transfer to Iran, North Korea, and Syria certain goods, services, or technology, and for other purposes." A webcast of the hearing is available here. A summary of the markup (amendments, votes) can be read here. The Committee's press release touting the passage of the bills can be read here. The opening statement of Committee Chair Ros-Lehtinen (R-L) can be read here; the opening statement of Ranking Member Berman (D-CA) can be read here.

Several elements of HR 1905 bear special attention:

Language to Outlaw Diplomacy

Notably, 48 hours before the mark-up, HFAC Chair Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) circulated/posted new text for HR 1905, to be taken up by the committee as a substitute for the originally introduced text. That new text included a very striking new provision:

Sec. 601 (c) RESTRICTION ON CONTACT.-No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that-
(1) is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran; and
(2) presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations.

(d) WAIVER.-The President may waive the requirements of subsection (c) if the President determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 2 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure o exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.

This language, which was adopted by the Committee as part of the new base bill, in effect outlaws U.S. diplomacy related to Iran, unless the President specifically justifies it to Congress in advance. As such, even with the waiver authority, it constitutes an extraordinary and blatant intrusion on the executive's foreign policy prerogative. Ironically, this legislation, if it had been in effect, could have barred the U.S. government operation that stopped the alleged Iranian assassination plot in the U.S. last month.


Given the outrageous nature of this provision, one has to ask: why are members, particularly Democrats, supporting it? The likely reason is twofold: first, it is now full-on reelection season for members, and doing ANYTHING that could be portrayed as soft on Iran is likely going to be viewed in most offices as a political non-starter. Second, those who recognize the danger/outrageousness of this provision most likely assume that the Senate will strip it out and are thus taking comfort in the belief that things will work out anyway, so there is no reason to waste political capital doing anything.

Of course, this is risky logic. Nobody should forget that a good portion of the Senate, as well as President Obama, are up for re-election. While the Senate can often be counted on to act as the "cooler head" when it comes to inflammatory legislation coming out of the House, that is certainly not always the case. And given the subject-matter and the timing of this bill, nobody should be over-confident about the readiness of Senators to fall on the swords to fight this provision. Moreover, based on past experience with Iran issues on the Hill and the current political environment, it is by no means a sure bet that the White House will expend the necessary political capital in the Senate defending its own equities. Indeed, if this provision makes it into the final version of the bill that is sent to the President, it is not even certain that the president will be willing to assert any constitutional objections to it, even in a signing statement.

Finally, the inclusion of this extraordinary provision in HR 1905 raises an important question: will this provision become a new template for foreign affairs legislation supported by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, under the leadership, of Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen? Will we now see similar efforts to outlaw U.S. diplomacy with, for example, the Palestinians (or Cubans)? There are echoes here of the spectacularly self-defeating foreign policy approach of President George W. Bush, whose administration adopted the view that U.S. diplomatic engagement is a reward for good behavior, rather than a tool critical to protecting and promoting U.S. interests. Will we now see Ros-Lehtinen and her ilk in Congress seek to not only codify this approach in laws, but seek to make Congress the sole arbiter of who the U.S. will and will not talk to, and under what circumstances - particularly in places like the Middle East? This certainly bears watching, especially as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case dealing with the issue of Congressional efforts to dictate foreign policy (in the context of a case related to legislation related to Jerusalem).

For further comment, see:

The Daily Beast 11/2/11: (Ambassadors William Luers and Thomas Pickering): The House's Iran Diplomacy Folly
ThinkProgress 11/2/11: GOP-Led House Committee Passes Bill Barring Diplomacy With Iran
The National Interest (Paul Pillar) 10/31/11: Ostracism Madness
Huffington Post (MJ Rosenberg) 11/3/11: AIPAC's "War With Iran" Bill Passes House Committee.

Barring export of civilian aircraft parts

Section 302 of HR 1905 seeks to overturn existing Presidential authority to grant special permission, as a humanitarian gesture, for parts for civilian aircrafts to be exported to Iran (which, due to years of sanctions, has seen numerous civilian aircraft disasters). This is an effort that has been pushed for some time by Rep. Sherman (D-CA), most notably as part of HR 1655, introduced 4/15/11. At that time, NIAC noted: "Flying is already a dangerous affair for Iranians, thanks in part to a U.S. embargo that has left the country's civilian aviation fleet in disrepair. In the past decade, over 1,000 people have been killed in at least fifteen plane crashes in Iran, including seventy-seven passengers who were killed just three months ago in a Boeing 727 crash." For Sherman's press releasing proudly claiming credit for efforts to block parts for civilian aircraft, see here

Sanctioning the Central Bank

During the markup the committee adopted an amendment offered jointly by Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Berman (D-CA) that could require U.S. sanctions on Iran's Central Bank. Rep. Berman's statement touting passage of this amendment can be viewed here. As noted in the 7/21/11 edition of the Round-Up, there are serious concerns about this proposal inside the Obama Administration (for more, see this 11/4/11 article in the Los Angeles Times). It seems the U.S. has never sanctioned the central bank of another nation before, and it is clear that doing so now would have significant secondary and tertiary effects. Such an act could be considered a backdoor trade embargo and would have huge impacts on foreign banks doing legitimate international settlements with Iran. It would also have huge impacts on world oil prices. There is concern, too, that preventing a sovereign immune bank (central banks have sovereign immunity) from doing business might be considered an act of war.

Sanctions on the Refined Petroleum Sector

HR 1905 seeks to further sanction Iran's already heavily sanctioned refined petroleum sector, in an effort to create fuel shortages that, Congress hopes, will force the government to change its behavior or cause the people to rise up against their leaders. Sanctions already in place on this sector appear to be "working" in the sense of causing economic pain, but they are clearly not "working" in the sense of achieving the stated Congressional goal of changing the Iranian government's behavior or changing the Iranian government. It is not clear why Congress believes further tightening the screws on the refined petroleum sector will achieve a different result - indeed, it seems that these sanctions are more about making a show of being tough than about the achievement of actual policy goals. These ramped-up petroleum sector sanctions, coupled with the new proposed Central Bank sanctions and the ban on diplomacy, also seem to support the view that Congress is simply working to check off all the sanctions boxes in order to justify the conclusion that the only option left is war.

Further Analysis/Commentary

Christian Science Monitor 11/3/11: US pushes toward more biting Iran sanctions
Inter Press Service 11/2/11: U.S. House Committee Okays Sweeping Sanctions on Iran NIAC 11/2/11: House Committee Adopts Indiscriminate Sanctions, Anti-Diplomacy Bill
NIAC action alert 11/2/11: Don't Punish the Iranian People, Say No to Broad Sanctions
USA*Engage 11/2/11: Statement on House Foreign Affairs Committee Markup
of Sanctions Legislation

ThinkProgress 11/2/11: How Sanctions Held Iran's Government Together

And from the practically-could-have-been-written-today-if-you-change-the-names archives:
The Age (LA Times article), 1/9/1980: Iran Sanctions Could Backfire


As everybody who cares about foreign policy (and hasn't been living under a rock) knows by now, earlier this week the PLO was admitted as a full member by UNESCO, triggering pre-existing U.S. laws that mandate an immediate and 100% cut-off in U.S. funding to UNESCO. These laws likewise mandate such a cut-off of funding to the UN, any specialized agency of the UN, or any affiliated organization of the UN who follows suit. With the Palestinians reportedly planning to apply for membership in at least 16 more agencies, the specter of a far-reaching U.S. withdrawal from international agencies - including from agencies like the IAEA and WIPO, looms large. And with it looms the specter of far-reaching consequences for U.S. international influence, leverage, and engagement, and for the U.S ability to protect and promote its interests across the whole spectrum of issues around the globe.

Absent from the reporting and debate around this issue is any real notice of the fact that the rationale that existed for passage of these laws in 1990 and 1994 no longer exists. Objectively speaking, what we are seeing today is U.S. policy at the UN being hijacked by a pair of legislative anachronisms.

Let's look at the situation in 1990:

(a) The PLO was a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO); and
(b) Talk of the establishment of a Palestinian state was considered beyond the pale for the U.S. and Israel, and in much of the international community.

Now let's look at 1994:
(a) The PLO was no longer a US- designated FTO (it was removed from the list in 1991), but through legislation like the PLO Commitments Compliance Act, Congress made clear that as far as it was concerned, it might as well still be on that list; and
(b) Talk of the establishment of a Palestinian state was still considered beyond the pale for the U.S. and Israel, and in much of the international community. Indeed, the idea of a Palestinian state is never mentioned anywhere in the Oslo Accords.

Now let's look at things in 2011:

(a) The PLO has not been a U.S.-designated FTO for two decades and the leader of the PLO, President Mahmoud Abbas, has clearly and repeatedly rejected violence and terror and has worked closely with Israel on security; and
(b) Since President George W. Bush's famous speech of April 2002, it has been U.S. policy and has become general consensus -- embraced at least rhetorically by Israel, by U.S. policymakers, by organizations across the Jewish political spectrum, and by the world -- that the goal of negotiations is the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and with security.

What follows from this, given the ardent defense of the laws and the equally ardent demand for retribution against UNESCO and the Palestinians from some quarters, is that it doesn't matter to Congress that the original rationales for this legislation have evaporated. It doesn't matter, it seems, because new rationales can always be found. Like the utterly disingenuous argument that the Palestinians are trying to use the UN to bypass negotiations to get a state (never mind that the Palestinians have made clear that they remain committed to negotiating a two-state solution, or that the UN simply has no ability to deliver a state for them on the ground). Or like the feeble protestations to the effect that U.S. and Israeli objections to the Palestinians' efforts to gain international legitimacy for their aspirations of statehood reflect, in fact, nothing less than the deep and abiding U.S. and Israeli commitment to the achievement of a Palestinian state.

Clearly, the goal posts have been moved. And just as clearly, what is being signaled to the Palestinians is the following: if you fail to toe the "peace process" line dictated to you by Israel and the United States, you will be punished. No matter if what you do is non-violent and supportive of/consistent with a negotiated two-state solution. No matter if the line you are being asked to toe is both politically suicidal and guaranteed, at least for the foreseeable future, to deliver only humiliation, frustration, and more settlements. No matter if the situation on the ground in places like Jerusalem is truly reaching a tipping point where soon the two-state solution will be a lost dream. No matter if nearly the entire world believes that you have every right and justification to take the action you are taking.

No matter any of that. If you don't toe the line, an excuse will always be found to justify punitive action against you. The goal posts will be moved again and again (indeed, some members of Congress have already indicated a desire to further strengthen the legislative anachronisms to be even more punitive).

Faced with this reality, is it really any wonder that the Palestinian leadership has decided to continue pressing forward at the UN?

Selected Member Statements

Politico 11/1/11: Ros-Lehtinen: No Help for UNESCO
Lowey (D-NY), 10/31: Lowey Statement on UNESCO Membership for PA
Granger (R-TX), 10/31: Granger Statement on UNESCO Approving Full Membership To The Palestinians
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), 10/31: Ros-Lehtinen Condemns Admission of 'Palestine' to UNESCO, Calls for Full Funding Cutoff
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), 11/1: Ros-Lehtinen Says U.S. Cutoff of UNESCO Funds Must Stand
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), 11/2: Ros-Lehtinen Disappointed by Lack of Support from Most Latin American Countries on UNESCO Vote on Palestinian Upgrade; Praises Panama's Principled Stance
Rep. Jordan (R-OH), 10/31: Jordan Reminds President Obama to Uphold the Law, Defund UNESCO
Engel (D-NY) and Berkeley (D-NV), 10/31: Engel, Berkley Condemn UNESCO Vote to Add Palestine As Member; Say It Will Result in U.S. Funding Cut
Flake (R-AZ), 11/3/11 in the Congressional Record, urging cut-off in US funds to UNESCO
Olson (R-TX), 11/2/11 in the Congressional Record, urging cut-off in US funds to UNESCO Rep. Buerkle (R-NY), 11/1/11: Rep. Buerkle Condemns Admission of 'Palestine' to UNESCO

Other Developments

See Section 1, above, for reporting on the 10/28/11 Israel-Cole letter.

On 10/31/11, Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY) circulated a Dear Colleague inviting members and staff to a 11/3/11 briefing entitled "How to Stop the Palestinian Statehood Scheme at the UN: UNESCO and Beyond." The briefers were: Brett Schaefer (Heritage Foundation), Anne Bayefsky (Hudson Institute); Benny Avni (the New York Post); and Mark Weitzman (the Simon Wiesenthal Center). The Dear Colleague notes that "This briefing is particularly timely given today's action by UNESCO to grant membership to a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state, and likely similar action by other UN agencies in the near future. Such action rewards Palestinian rejectionism, severely undermines chances for Middle East peace and security, and triggers U.S. laws mandating a cutoff of assistance to such UN bodies. We would also note that the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act (H.R. 2829), which the House Committee on Foreign Affairs recently passed, would strengthen existing law by cutting off assistance to any UN entity that grants membership or any other upgraded status to its Palestinian mission."

Further Recommended Reading

APN Action Alert, 11/3/11: Tell Congress to act rationally on UN and the Palestinians
Foreign Policy, 11/3/11: The UNESCO cuts: What's next on the U.S. chopping block?
Foreign Policy, 11/1/11: Senators predict massive U.S. withdrawal from international organizations
ThinkProgress, 11/1/11: Graham: Cutting Off Funds to U.N. Orgs Isn't 'In Our Near-Term Or Long-Term Interest'
Washington Post, 10/31/11: UNESCO votes to admit Palestine; U.S. cuts off funding

4. Odds and Ends

Members on the Record

Rep. Chabot (R-ON), 11/1/11: Congressman Steve Chabot Reacts to Violations of Lebanese Sovereignty
Sen. Begich (D-AK), 11/2/11 in the Congressional Record, asks for a meeting on "Women and the Arab Spring."
Rep. Stearns (R-FL), 11/2/11, submits for the Congressional Record resolution by the University of Florida Student Body Government that affirms U.S. rejection of Palestinian unilateral efforts.
Sen. McCain (R-AZ), 10/31/11: Speech at 10/31/11 AIPAC National Summit.
Rep. Ackerman (D-NY), 10/26/11: Ackerman Arrives in Israel to Bring Ilan Grapel Home
Rep. Ackerman (D-NY), 10/24/11: Ackerman Hails Release of Queens, New York Student Arrested in Egypt and Accused of Spying for Israel

Other Hill-related News

On 11/1/11 The American Friends of the Lubavith honored House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) with its "leadership award." The award was presented at the event by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

On 11/1/11 EMPact America held a press conference and "Q andA with Expert Panel" on Capitol Hill entitled "What if Iran Already Has the Bomb?" The event featured Reza Kahlili (a pseudonym), who on 10/28/11 published an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that Iran already has nuclear weapons and that concludes by quoting an EMPact America's president as saying that Iran "only needs a single nuclear weapon to destroy the United States" and follows with a thinly-veiled suggestion that the U.S. should attack Iran before it uses such a weapon to attack the U.S.

Check the APN blog for breaking news and analysis about issues related to Israel, the Middle East, and the Hill.
Past editions of the Round-Up are archived and available online.