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Government Relations: December 2009 Archives

WaPo: Obama Admin agrees with APN - IRPSA is a bad idea

Glenn Kessler has an interesting piece in today's Washington Post talking about the Obama Administration's plans for additional sanctions against Iran (full text after the break).  

Interesting, because Kessler talks to senior Obama Administration officials who make clear that "We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy."  And who argue that "We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation -- whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame." Kessler adds that "As a result, top officials show little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran. 'Sanctions would not be an alternative to engagement,' another senior official said. 'Our intention is to keep the door open.'"

For anyone who might not have been paying attention, this Glenn Kessler report is completely consistent with what Obama Administration officials have said in the past about IRPSA - most notably in a largely ignored appearance by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey before the Senate Banking Committee hearing about IRPSA on 10/6/09, and in the letter sent by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Kerry (D-MA) on 12/11/09.

And again, for anyone who has not been paying attention, APN has opposed IRPSA from the start - generally for the same reasons articulated by Administration officials.  We have been one of the sole voices - and the sole voice in the Jewish community - aligned with the Obama Administration on this issue, and pressing both the House and Senate to reject or amend this very problematic bill (including offering specific amendments to both versions of the bill).

Congress comes back next month, and Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has already promised to take swift action on IRPSA.  It remains to be seen if the Senate Majority leader will heed the Administration's words -- permitting the bill to be amended in substantively significant ways or slow-walking the bill until such time as the President has implemented his own new sanctions strategy. 

APN Legislative Round-Up for the Week Ending December 18, 2009

1.  Bills and Resolutions 
2.  Houses Passes IRPSA (Despite Oversight Committee Hearing) 
3.  Senate Holds Off on IRPSA (for Now) 
4.  Statements on IRPSA (excerpts) 
5.  APN on Iran-South Africa Comparison in IRPSA Debate 

Iran is not South Africa

Critics (including this writer) of HR 2194 -- the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), which was passed by the House yesterday -- have argued that if the US wants to put pressure on the government of Iran, sanctions that deliberately cause suffering to the Iranian people are unlikely to do the job and could well backfire.   During yesterday's House debate on IRPSA, several speakers attempted to refute this criticism by raising the South Africa precedent.  They noted, correctly, that in the South Africa context, crippling economic sanctions worked.   

It is clear why supporters of IRSPA want to focus on South Africa:  this is the only example in recent history where sanctions similar to those being proposed for use against Iran achieved their intended purpose.  

But those raising the South Africa ignore a key fact:  while the sanctions may be similar, their justification and intended purpose are not.  These differences render the comparison specious and the conclusion - that sanctions that worked in South Africa will work in Iran - dubious.

Moran-Ingles letter on education for Gazans

Below is the text of the sign-on letter that Reps. Moran and Ingles are circulating:

Text of Congressional letter on Gaza

Below is the text of the sign-on letter that Reps. McDermott and Ellison are circulating:

Iran Wrap-up/Grab-bag, 12/15/09

- Today the House Committee on Oversight and Reform's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held a hearing entitled "Iran Sanctions: Options, Opportunities and Consequences." Witnesses were Dr. Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution (text of prepared testimony); Dr. George Lopez, Professor of Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame (text of prepared testimony); Robin Wright, Jennings Randolph Fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace (text of prepared testimony); and Ambassador James Dobbins, Director, RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center (text of prepared testimony). In addition, NIAC's Trita Parsi was invited to provide a statement for the hearing. For a summary of the hearing - which included all four witnesses saying that if they were voting, they would vote "no" on IRPSA - can be viewed here.

-  Surprising absolutely nobody, the House voted this afternoon to suspend the rules and pass HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), by a vote of 412-12, with 4 voting "present."  The full roll call vote can be viewed here.  Voting "No" were:  Baldwin (D-WI), Blumenauer (D-OR), Conyers (D-MI), Duncan (R-TN), Flake (R-AZ), Hinchey (D-NY), Kucinich (D-OH), Lynch (MA), McDermott (D-WA), Moore (D-WI), Paul (R-TX), and Stark (D-CA).  Voting "Present" were:  E.B. Johnson (D-TX), Kilpatrick (D-MI), Lee (D-CA) and Waters (D-CA).  Friday's Round-Up will include excerpts from key floor statements and statements inserted into the record. 

- As the House was getting ready to move on the very misguided and potentially counter-productive IRPSA, yesterday (12/14/09) two new Iran bills were introduced.  These two bills embrace a much different approach: targeting Iranian government officials with sanctions and proposing tangible things to support the Iranian people.  APN strongly supports both of these bills and is urging members of Congress to cosponsor and support them.

- The first bill is HR 4301, introduced by Reps. Moran (D-VA), Inglis (R-SC) and Delahunt (D-MA).   Entitled the Iran Digital Empowerment Act (IDEA), this bill would ensure that the Iranian people have access to software and related technology crucial to internet communications amongst themselves and between Iran and the outside world.  It would also ensure that Iranian private citizens have access to tools that allow them to circumvent Iranian government efforts to stifle and monitor internet communications.  At present, US sanctions - which have not been updated recently and have thus been overtaken by technology - has already resulted in some such tools and services being unavailable to Iranians.  

- The second bill is HR 4303, introduced by Reps. Ellison (D-MN) and Delahunt (D-MA).  Entitled the Stand with the Iranian People Act (SWIPA), this bill would (a) bar the issuance of visa to or entry into the US of any Iranian government official credibly alleged to have involvement in human rights abuses; (b) prohibit US procurement contracts with companies that have aided Iranian government efforts to stifle free speech by providing censorship or monitoring technology; and (c)  authorize US non-profit organizations' activities in Iran for the provision of humanitarian and people-to-people assistance.

APN to House: Vote No Tomorrow on IRPSA

This morning APN sent the following message to every House office:

Dear XXX,

Tomorrow, HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, is scheduled to be brought to the floor for a vote under suspension of the rules. APN strongly opposes this legislation.  We urge members to vote "No" or "Present" on this bill.   We urge Members to recognize that:
This bill is NOT a straightforward, simple, non-controversial effort to help the President pressure Iran.   For a table identifying problems with the bill click here.  In general, HR 2194 is a bill that:

    * takes authority away from the President, tying his hands on key national security strategy. This is NOT a measure that would, as its supporters say, give additional authority to the President. It is a bill that
    * targets the Iranian people, in the hope that if the people become miserable enough they will pressure their government to change course. This is a strategy that few experts believe will work, and a strategy that has a very poor track record in other contexts (Iraq, Cuba, Gaza). Indeed, experience has demonstrated that with sanctions like these, the most likely and immediate result will be a backlash by the people of Iran against the United States, not against the Iranian regime.
    * limits US options regarding Iran for many years to come, by imposing requirements that could conflict with future efforts to negotiate an international solution regarding Iran's nuclear program and by extending current sanctions legislation (the Iran Sanctions Act, which does not expire until 2011) until 2016, without any discussion or debate.
    * conflicts with the approach currently being pursued by the Obama Administration, which is focused on building international support for multilateral sanctions.  Last week the Administration weighed in regarding the Senate version of IRPSA, noting that "We are entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran. This requires that we keep the focus on Iran. At this juncture...this legislation, in its current form, might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts."

For anyone who missed it, the Cable posted this exclusive story on Friday, reporting on the much-rumored State Department letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) regarding S. 2799, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009.  As noted last week, there was a surprise push to fast-track S. 2799, accompanied by intense speculation over whether this would force the Obama Administration to weigh in on a piece of legislation that directly conflicts with its current effort to mobilize international support for a multilateral approach to (and increasingly, multilateral sanctions against) Iran.  That speculation ends with this letter, sent on Friday (Dec. 11) from Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.  In the letter Steinberg notes that  "I write to express my concern about the timing and content of this legislation..."  He goes on to note that:

"we are entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.  This requires that we keep the focus on Iran.  At this juncture, I am concerned that this legislation, in its current form, migth weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts.  In addition to the timing, we have serious substantive concerns, including the lack of flexibility, inefficient monetary threshhold and penalty levels, and blacklisting that could cause unintended foreign policy consequences..."

The letter closes with a plea to delay consideration of the bill until the new year, so as not to undermine the Administration's diplomacy at this critical juncture." [bold added by APN]

APN Legislative Round-Up for the Week Ending December 11, 2009

1.  Bills and Resolutions 
2.  FY10 ForOps Passes 
3.  IranIran, and more Iran 
4.  Two House Letters on Gaza Situation 

As everyone who follows this issue knows, last week House leadership decided that it was time to move ahead with far-reaching, probably counter-productive Iran sanctions (HR 2194 - for APN's view on this bill, click here). 

As of yesterday afternoon, the popular wisdom (including among many House supporters of that bill), was that this is a risk-free strategy -- in terms of putting the Obama Administration in an awkward position, given that its end-of-year deadline for progress in negotiations has not yet passed, and given the Obama Administration's assumed preference for pursuing multilateral sanctions at the present time.  It was assumed to be risk-free because it was assumed that the Senate was not going to move on its own version of IRSPA any time before the new year.

Well, popular wisdom was wrong.

APN Urges Senate to Oppose IRPSA

This afternoon Senate leadership sent out a "Hotline" notice to the offices of all Senate Democrats communicating the following:  "The Majority Leader asks unanimous consent that the Senate take up and pass CAL #215, S. 2799.  CAL #215, S. 2799, Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009.  If your Senator has an objection, please contact the Democratic Cloakroom." A similar notice was presumably sent out from Republican leadership to Republican offices. 

It remains to be seen if any senator will object to the request (if even one Senator does -- and this means putting an informal and usually anonymous "hold" on the bill -- then the bill will not move by Unanimous Consent for the time being).

In response to the Hotline request, APN sent the following to all Senate offices:

Dear XXX,

Earlier today Senate leadership today hotlined S.  2799, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009.  APN opposes passage of the bill in its current form. 

Click here to download a table containing a section-by-section analysis of the bill, including proposed amendments.

We strongly urge Senators to object to this attempt to short-circuit debate (and potential amendments) and fast-track a piece of complex and far-reaching legislation - legislation that would impact virtually every aspect of and every option for US policy toward Iran now and in the future.

APN to House: IPRSA - A Flawed Iran Sanctions Bill

Earlier today APN sent the following message to all House offices urging Members to oppose HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA):

Dear xxxxx,

Next week a piece of major Iran sanctions legislation, HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) will be brought to the floor under suspension of the rules.  This means that there will be only limited debate on the measure and no amendments allowed.

Click here to download a table containing a section-by-section analysis of the bill, including proposed amendments.

We have opposed HR 2194 since it was introduced.  We believe at its premise it reflects a misguided and potentially self-defeating approach for the US to the challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program.  Our full position on the proper response to Iran can be read here.

We oppose this bill, not because we oppose all sanctions.  In fact, we have supported and continue to support smart, targeted sanctions that are part of a broader US strategy to deal with this critical foreign policy and national security challenge.  Unfortunately HR 2194 is not about smart, targeted sanctions.

Why APN Opposes IRPSA (and How IRPSA Could be Fixed)

As noted in last Friday's Round-Up, the House is getting set to vote on (and inevitably pass) the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), probably next week.  As also noted in the Round-Up, APN opposes this bill.  We opposed it when it was introduced and have opposed it every step of the way.  Our opposition has never been about timing or political considerations, but about principle: this is bad legislation.  Well-intentioned, no doubt, but still bad.

Today we sent a message to every House office articulating, again, our opposition to the bill.  In addition, we sent along a handy-dandy (or even fancy-shmancy) table laying out our specific concerns with the bill and suggested amendments.

APN Legislative Round-Up for the Week Ending December 4, 2009

1.  Bills and Resolutions 
2.  IRPSA on the House Agenda 
3.  Ros-Lehtinen (and Sherman) Bravely Defend Israel Aid... from ZERO threat 
4.  Lebanon/Iran Dear Colleague 
(Normally I would save something like this for Friday's Round-Up, but this is just too galling to sit on for a whole week...)

In what is perhaps the most outrageous grandstanding on Israel witnessed to date in the 111th Congress, on Monday afternoon Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, circulated a Dear Colleague urging members to join her in sending a letter to President Obama defending Israel's aid program. The implication being, of course, that the Obama Administration is actually considering attacking this aid - an implication that is totally divorced from reality.  And it also implies that House Republicans (abetted by a Democrat - Sherman (D-CA) - who one can only guess is feeling pretty silly right now about lending his name to this effort) are stepping up to defend aid because Democratic colleagues have failed to do so.  Hilarious.  Straw men arguments are certainly common in politics, but this seems to be taking it to an extreme.... (full dear colleague and letter to the President after the break...)

From: e-Dear Colleague
Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 6:06 PM
Subject: Intelligence: Dear Colleague: Keep America Safe: Sign Letter to the President Supporting Continued Security Assistance to Israel

Keep America Safe: Sign Letter to the President Supporting Continued Security Assistance to Israel
From: The Committee on Foreign Affairs - Minority Staff
Sent By:
Date: 11/30/2009

Keep America Safe:

Support Continued Security Assistance to our Ally Israel

Dear Colleague:

As our nation faces increasing challenges to both our economy and our security, it is incumbent upon us to make difficult choices and establish priorities for limited taxpayer funds, such as continued robust security assistance to the State of Israel - funding that both advances our national security interests and is mutually-reinforcing.  For this reason, we ask that you sign the attached letter to the President requesting that he fully implement our security assistance agreement with Israel and allocate the necessary resources to fulfill this commitment.

The U.S.-Israel alliance is particularly important because both nations are democracies facing the common security threat of rogue regimes that pursue deadly weapons, and that sponsor violent Islamist groups which target both Americans and Israelis.

The Iranian regime - which repeatedly calls for a world without the U.S. and Israel - continues to advance its uranium enrichment efforts and could have nuclear weapons capabilities as soon as next year.  To deliver those weapons and make good on its threats, Iran possesses and is further developing an arsenal of missiles that can strike Israel, U.S. forces in the Middle East, and parts of Europe.  Iran and its fellow dictatorship Syria also continue to sponsor Hezbollah and Hamas, which continue to threaten Israel from the north and south.

Israel is on the front lines of our struggle against these mounting threats, and that nation has proven itself to be an indispensable ally, sharing her extensive experience in battling militant extremists domestically, militarily, and diplomatically.  Israel's qualitative military advantage has, and continues to act as a force-multiplier in the region, thereby playing a vital role in aiding U.S. forces in the Middle East, and beyond.  That is why successive Administrations have supported a robust U.S.-Israel alliance. 

But to address these growing threats, Israel must spend more proportionately on defense than any state in the Western world - paying for increasingly sophisticated, varied, and costly weapons systems needed to maintain its qualitative military edge.  Therefore, in 2007 the U.S. and Israel concluded an agreement to increase U.S. security assistance to Israel over the next decade. 

Because the international community has failed to apply strong sanctions to compel the Iranian regime to change course, the threat to our security - and Israel's very existence - has never been greater.  Therefore, the attached letter asks the President to fully implement our security assistance pact with Israel, ensuring that both of our nations can protect ourselves and each other against this threat.

To co-sign the letter, please contact Alan Goldsmith or Matthew Zweig at X68467.


ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN                                        
Ranking Member                                                         
House Committee on Foreign Affairs

House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade