APN Legislative Round-Up: 12/31/15, Part 1

1. New Bills, Resolutions, and Letters
2. Settlements = Israel, the Congressional Campaign Continues
3. New Iran Battles in Congress – What to Expect in 2016
4. Hearings
5. On the Record

NOTE: FOR DETAILS OF THE FY16 OMNIBUS, SEE PART 2 OF THIS WEEK’S ROUND-UP

1. New Bills, Resolutions, and Letters

(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL) H. Res. 567: Introduced 12/16 by Lowey (D-NY) and 5 cosponsors, “Expressing opposition to the European Commission interpretive notice regarding labeling Israeli products and goods manufactured in the West Bank and other areas, as such actions undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  Press release from Lowey, Roskam (R-IL), Engel (D-NY) and Royce (R-CA) touting the resolution is here.  APN strongly opposes this resolution and has called on House members to refuse to cosponsor it and oppose it if it is brought up for a vote. For details of APN’s position, see section 2, below.

(SETTLEMENTS = ISRAEL) HR 644 (update): As covered in the last edition of the Round-Up, on 12/9 House and Senate conferees agreed on a joint text of HR 644, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015” [aka the Customs Bill], that included the very problematic House version of  a provision conflating Israel and settlements. On 12/11, the House voted to adopt the conference report by a vote of 256-158. On 12/14, notice of the House action was sent to the Senate; as of this writing the bill is being held at the desk in the Senate, awaiting action when the Senate returns to session. As noted previously, assuming the bill passes the Senate (which it almost certainly will), President Obama will likely issue a signing statement when he signs the bill into law, given that the provision in question represents a flagrant effort by Congress to legislate U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank – which not only contradicts 48 years of U.S. policy but is a breach of the Executive’s exclusive authority under the Constitution to confer recognition (as recently confirmed by the Supreme Court in the Jerusalem passport case).

(CONSOLIDATED APPROPS) HR 2029: On 12/15, the House Rules Committee released the amendment to HR 2029 that became the FY16 Consolidated Appropriations bill, as agreed by House and Senate leaders.  In its new form, HR 2029 rolled together all pending appropriations bills into one (2009-page) piece of legislation. On 12/18, the bill was passed by both the House (by a vote of 316-113) and Senate (by a vote of 65-33), and signed into law by the president, becoming PL 114-113. For a comprehensive look at Middle East elements in the bill, see Part 2 of this week’s Round-Up.

(NO SANCTIONS RELIEF FOR IRAN) S. 2429: Introduced 12/18 by Ayotte (R-NH) and 10 GOP cosponsors, “To require a report on the military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program and to prohibit the provision of sanctions relief to Iran until Iran has verifiably ended all military dimensions of its nuclear program, and for other purposes,” aka, the “Ending Iran's Nuclear Weapon Program Before Sanctions Relief Act of 2015.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 4312: Introduced 12/18 by Sherman (D-CA) and 5 cosponsors, “To provide for more effective sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps or any of its officials, agents, or affiliates to counter support for international terrorism and assistance to the Assad regime in Syria,” aka “Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Sanctions Implementation and Review Act.” Referred to the House Committees on Foreign Affairs; Financial Services; Ways and Means; Oversight and Government Reform; and Judiciary.

(IRAN PERSECUTION OF BAHA’I) S. Res. 148: Introduced 4/23 by Kirk (R-IL) and having 38 cosponsors, “A resolution condemning the Government of Iran's state-sponsored persecution of its Baha'i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.” On 12/17, passed by the Senate by with an amendment, by Unanimous Consent.

(TARGETING HIZBALLAH $$$) HR 2297: Introduced 5/13 by Royce (R-CA) and having 9 cosponsors, the “Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015” (the companion Senate version is S. 1617). This legislation has long been an AIPAC lobbying priority.  On 11/17, HR 2297 passed by the Senate (with an amendment) by Unanimous Consent. On 12/16, the House voted to agree to the Senate amendment and passed the bill by a vote of 425-0, sending it to the president, who on 12/18 signed it into law (PL 114-102). Transcript of House floor consideration of the bill is here.

 

Letters:

(INVESTIGATE NSA MONITORING OF BIBI/CONGRESS) Chaffetz-DeSantis-Meadows-Lummis letter to NSA Director Rogers:  On 12/30, House Oversight Committee Chairman Chaffetz (R-UT), and subcommittee chairs DeSantis (R-FL), Meadows (R-NC) and Lummis (R-WY) sent a letter to NSA director, Admiral Michael Rogers, expressing concern about recent reports of NSA monitoring of Israel officials that “swept up the contents” of private conversations between these officials and members of Congress. The letters says these reports “raise questions concerning the processes NSA employees follow in determining whether intercepted communications involved Members of Congress, and the latitude agency employees have in screening communications with Member of Congress from further dissemination within the Executive Branch.” It goes on to say “To help the Committee better assess these issues, please provide all guidance (including all formal and informal policies and procedures) governing” communications of this nature, no later than January 13, 2015 [the date is clearly a typo]. It also asks for a briefing for Committee staff on 1/15/16 to explain the process. NOTE: The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes also issued a statement 12/30 saying that his committee was looking into the reports and had requested information from the intelligence community.

(DON’T THINK YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH USING WAIVER OF VISA LAW ON IRAN!) McCarthy et al letter to Secretaries Kerry and Johnson: On 12/22 House Majority Leader McCarthy (R-CA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Royce (R-CA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA), House Homeland Security Committee Chairman McCaul (R-TX), and Rep. Miller (R-MI) (the author of The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to express concern about Secretary Kerry’s recent claims that the administration could waive certain requirements pertaining to Iran in recently enacted U.S. Visa Waiver Program reforms. The letter states, ““Congress and the President strengthened the VWP in order to protect the national security of the United States. Iran is impacted by this new law because it is a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism.  The simplest way to eliminate this restriction is for Iran to end its support of terrorism.  We are deeply concerned that this point was absent from your recent correspondence with the Iranian Foreign Minister and urge the Administration to press Tehran on this, as well as its recent missile tests and persistent jailing of Americans.  The problem is with Iranian actions, not the new visa waiver law.” The letter closes suggesting that if the Secretaries “require any more information regarding the Congressional intent of this provision” they should not hesitate to ask (the implication being that if the Administration ignores Congress’ intent, Congress can change the law to force the Administration to comply).

(SQUEEZE IRAN WITH NEW VISA RULES!) Dold et al letter to Kerry: On 12/22, Rep. Dold (R-IL) and 19 other House members sent a letter to Secretary Kerry calling on him to impose new visa regulations passed by Congress against people who travel to Iran. Dold press is release here. Further reporting from the adamantly anti-JCPOA Israel Project (which interestingly, has posted the final, signed text of the letter, while that same text is not available on Dold’s own website) is here.  For more on this, see Section 3, below.

(SQUEEZE IRAN WITH NEW VISA RULES!) Pompeo letter to Kerry: On 12/22, Rep. Pompeo (R-KS) sent a letter to Secretary Kerry insisting that anyone who travels to Iran must henceforth be treated as a security risk by the U.S. and be disqualified from the Visa Waiver Program. Pompeo issued a statement about the letter, noting, in part, “For Secretary Kerry to pander to Iran’s Foreign Minister, as it appears he did when he promised to waive U.S. visa restrictions regarding Iran, is wrong and dangerous.  The largest state sponsor of terrorism shouldn’t get to dictate U.S. visa policy.  The urgent need to prevent ISIS and other terrorists from entering the U.S. ranks far above President Obama’s nuclear agreement.” For more on this, see Section 3, below.

(DOT MUST PUNISH KUWAIT AIRLINES) Israel letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx: On 12/22, Rep. Israel (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Foxx calling on the Department of Transportation to terminate landing rights in the United States for Kuwait Airways, in response to the airline’s discrimination against Israeli citizens.

(CLOSE PLO OFFICE!) Cruz-Meadows letter to Kerry: On 12/18, Senators Cruz (R-TX) and Meadows (R-NC) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry asking that the State Department close down the PLO representative office in Washington (which they appear to believe is the representative office of the Palestinian Authority – it is not, but no matter). They assert that “Allowing the PLO to maintain an office in Washington, D.C. provides no benefit to the United States or the peace process.”  They also argue that “Closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. would send a clear statement that the kind of incitement to violence perpetrated by the PLO and its leaders will not be tolerated” [notwithstanding the fact that Israeli security officials, as opposed to Israeli politicians, have made clear that incitement by Palestinian officials is not at the root of the ongoing violence]. Press release on the letter is here. Coverage of the letter in the Jerusalem Post is here; coverage in Haaretz is here.

(FRENCH OFFICIALS TRAVELING TO IRAN) Delaney-Kennedy-O’Rourke letter: On 12/18, Reps. Delaney (D-MD), Kennedy (D-MA) and O’Rourke (D-TX) sent a letter to the President of the French Senate and his delegation regarding their upcoming trip to Tehran. The letter noted, “…we urge you during your visit to make clear to Iran’s leaders that before sanctions can be lifted and businesses can re-enter the Iranian market, they must first uphold their responsibilities under the JCPOA. This includes, among other steps, removing over two-thirds of Iran’s centrifuges and reducing its enriched uranium stock by 98%. As you know, until the IAEA certifies Iranian compliance, Tehran cannot receive sanctions relief.  We – the international community, led by the United States, France, and other major powers committed to global security – must first ensure that Iran fully complies with its obligations.”

(CONCERN ABOUT IRAN BALLISTIC MISSILE TESTS) Cardin et al letter to Obama: On 12/17, Sen. Cardin (D-MD) let a letter to President Obama, signed by 20 fellow Democratic senators, expressing the senators’ deep concern over “Iran’s continued violations of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1929 by testing a second ballistic missile on November 21, 2015…If there are no consequences for this violation, Iran’s leaders will certainly also question the willingness of the international community to respond to violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and UN Security Council Resolution 2231.” The letter goes on to state, “In the absence of a UN Security Council commitment to enforcing UNSCR 1929, we request that you take action unilaterally, or in coordination with our European allies.  Such action is essential to make clear to Iran’s leaders that there will be consequences for future violations of UN Security Council Resolutions and that the United States reserves the right under the JCPOA to take unilateral action in response to this and other significant actions by Iran in the areas of ballistic missile development, terrorism and human rights.”

(STOP JCPOA IMPLEMENTATION OVER IRAN MISSILE TESTS) Yoho et al letter to Obama: On 12/17, Rep. Yoho (R-FL) led a letter to President Obama, signed by more than 100 fellow House members, urging that “at the very least, further sanctions relief should be postponed until the U.N. undertakes a rigorous investigation of the [missile] launches and takes appropriate action. Iran must be held accountable for their [sic] behavior and they [sic] must not be rewarded.” In his statement on the release of the letter, Yoho threatened, “If President Obama will not take the necessary steps to hold Iran accountable, I, along with the support of my colleagues in the House and on the Foreign Affairs Committee, will make sure he does…”

(RESTORE ALL SANCTIONS ON IRAN) McCarthur et al letter to Obama: On 12/17, Rep. MacArthur (R-NJ) and 14 House colleagues sent a letter to President Obama urging the president to “restore all relevant sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program,” based on the assertion that delivery of the S-300 missile defense system to Iran by Russia is “in direct violation of the five year ban of offensive weapon sales included in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to in July. These missiles will expand Iran’s current capabilities and have the potential to shoot down an American, Israeli, or allied bombers.” This demand appears to be based on the argument that while the S-300 is technically a defensive system, it “gives Tehran much more than just deterrent capabilities.”

(NO SANCTIONS RELIEF FOR IRAN AS PUNISHMENT OF MISSILE TESTS) Ayotte et al letter to Obama: On 12/16, Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) led a letter, signed by 35 other senators asserting that “it is a mistake to treat Iran's ballistic missile program as separate from Iran's nuclear program. Iran is developing ICBM capabilities for the sole purpose of enabling delivery of a nuclear weapon to the United States.” The letter suggests that the Obama Administration “is failing to respond to Iran's dangerous and destabilizing actions out of an eagerness to see the Iran deal go forward.” The letter urges President Obama “not lift sanctions on Iran that would provide billions of dollars in economic relief.”

(NO $$ FOR UNESCO) Kirk-Rubio letter to McConnell & Ryan: On 12/11 (not previously reported), Senators Kirk (R-IL) and Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Ryan (R-WI), opposing any funding for UNESCO in the FY16 omnibus appropriations bill. The press release on the letter (dated 12/17) is here. The letter argues that “The proposed language would undermine over two decades of U.S. policy against funding U.N. organizations that admit the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) or other non-state actors as members.” It also argues that including the funding would create “a deeply troubling precedent. U.N. organizations, which seek to follow UNESCO’s example and grant membership to non-state actors, may be encouraged to do so believing that the United States would eventually create another exception for them and restore withheld U.S. funding.” For background on the U.S. law that requires cutting off funding to any UN agency that admits the Palestinians, see this still-relevant report: Hijacked by Legislative Anachronisms

(IRAN CENTRAL BANK MUST PAY US VICTIMS OF TERROR) Ryan Dear Colleague: On 12/8 (not previously reported) House Speaker Ryan (R-WI) circulated a Dear Colleague calling on fellow House members to join him in sending an amicus brief to the Supreme Court regarding the case of Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran, v. Peterson. That brief was subsequently filed on 12/23. The list of 226 House members who signed on to the amicus brief is here. For an excellent summary of the case, see here.

 

2. Settlements = Israel, the Congressional Campaign Continues

Heading into 2016, it is clear that the “settlement=Israel” campaign in Congress is going to continue. The first shot in the New Year will likely be H. Res. 567, introduced just before the holiday recess by Lowey (D-NY), Roskam (R-IL), Engel (D-NY) and Royce (R-CA).  This resolution shines a bright spotlight on what this campaign is really about: exploiting legitimate fears about BDS targeting Israel to grant legitimacy – and extend U.S. support, for the first time in history, to Israeli settlements.

On 12/23, APN sent the following message to House staff, urging members to oppose H. Res. 567, and laying out in detail the very clear problems and dangers of adopting the settlements=Israel approach.

 -------

Dear XXXX,

On behalf of Americans for Peace Now (APN), America’s veteran grassroots, Jewish, Zionist, pro-peace organization and the sister organization to the Israeli Peace Now movement (Shalom Achshav), I’m writing to urge your boss to refuse to cosponsor H. Res. 567 – a resolution that would reverse almost 5 decades of U.S. policy with respect to Israeli settlements – and to oppose this resolution if it is brought to a vote.

The starting point for H. Res. 567 (as well as language inserted into two major trade bills in recent months) are legitimate concerns about the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. APN shares these concerns and opposes BDS against Israel – and if H. Res. 567 was strictly about putting Congress on the record opposing BDS targeting Israel, APN would support it.

Regrettably, and regardless of intent, H. Res. 567 is not strictly about opposing BDS against Israel. Rather, it is primarily about legislating U.S. protection and support for Israeli settlements.

It does so by erasing the distinction between Israel and the occupied territories and thereby treating policies of other nations that merely distinguish between the two as a form of anti-Israel BDS.  H. Res. 567, in effect, redefines “Israel” to mean “Israel-plus-Israeli-controlled-territory,” (code for the settlements) and, by extension, seeks to have members of Congress endorse the view that “supporting Israel” now means “supporting Israel and the settlements.”

This is a reckless and dangerous step for Congress to take, for a number of reasons:

  • This conflation flies in the face of nearly 5 decades of unbroken U.S. policy opposing settlements. Since 1967, every president, regardless of party, has maintained this policy.  And until recently, every Congress, regardless of which party was in control, supported this policy, including in law (e.g., legislation barring Israel from using U.S. loan guarantees in areas occupied in 1967).  Indeed, never before in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, until now, has there been any serious effort in Congress to legislate U.S. support for settlements.
  • This conflation threatens the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite U.S. opposition, successive Israeli governments have continued to build in settlements for decades, eroding both the credibility and the viability of the two-state solution. An unprecedented shift in policy in Congress to now actively support settlements can only encourage further construction, undermining the chances for ever resolving this conflict.
  • This conflation contradicts Congress’ commitment to negotiations as the only means of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With H. Res. 567 and similar measures, Congress is seeking to use U.S. law to grant “legitimacy” to settlements and, in doing so, to impose specific elements of a solution, outside of negotiations. The future of the occupied territories – and the settlements Israel has built in them – will be determined through negotiations, not by unilateral actions by either side, nor by actions at the United Nations or by the international community, nor by acts of Congress.
  • Those who adopt this conflation are, deliberately or unwittingly, playing into the hands of BDS, rather than fighting it.  They are making common cause with and fueling hardliners and zealots on both sides, including in the BDS movement, who likewise refuse to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories. They seek, instead, a zero-sum goal of one nation, be it Israel or Palestine, extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
  • This conflation further discredits Congress and U.S. leadership in the Middle East arena – an arena in which even Israel’s closest allies– countries that have not adopted anything even resembling BDS against Israel (the EU remains Israel’s largest trading partner) – have run out of patience with Israeli leaders who talk about supporting two states but keep building settlements. 
  • This conflation pointlessly puts the U.S. on a collision course with its own allies. It does so not for the sake of supporting and defending Israel, but for the sake of defending settlements – settlements built in defiance of almost 50 years of U.S. policy and settlements which the Israeli government continues to build, in contradiction to a genuine commitment to achieving a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • This conflation represents an extraordinary twisting of reality. Israel and the settlements are not the same thing. Members of Congress would do well to note that Israel has never annexed the West Bank, meaning that under Israeli law, the West Bank is not considered part of Israel, and under international law and Israeli court decisions the West Bank is deemed as being held in a state of belligerent military occupation. Distinguishing between Israel and settlements is neither discrimination against nor unfair treatment of Israel. Rather, it reflects this objective reality, and is both pro-Israel and pro-peace. This is true whether talking about the new EU interpretive notice relating to settlement products, or longstanding U.S. Customs rules, or the longstanding policy of Congress that U.S. aid cannot be used in the settlements.

The dangerous conflation of Israel and the settlements is at the heart of H. Res. 567.  While we hope that the intention behind this resolution is genuinely a desire to support Israel, the real impact of H. Res. 567 would be to put members of Congress explicitly and unequivocally on the record supporting not Israel but Israeli settlements.  For this reason, members of Congress who truly care about Israel and truly support a two-state solution must oppose it.

We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War and of the occupation. As this anniversary nears, the situation on the ground grows more and more dire. Israeli security authorities recognize that actions by the Israeli military and law enforcement, alone, will not suffice to end the violence. Now, more than ever, they recognize the urgency of re-establishing a horizon for a political solution – a two-state solution – to the conflict.  While such a solution may not be within reach today, it can and must be in the future, but it won’t be if the Green Line (the line separating between Israel and the West Bank), has been erased.

For the sake of Israel and the hopes of ever achieving a two-state resolution to this conflict, it is critical that members of Congress who care about Israel – including your boss – refuse to accept the dangerous conflation of Israel and the settlements. Opposition to BDS must not become cover, deliberately or inadvertently, for legislation that seeks to erase the Green Line and reverse 48 years of consistent, non-partisan U.S. opposition to settlements.

 

3. New Iran Battles in Congress – What to Expect in 2016

It is now clear (and it was indeed predictable/predicted) that 2016 will see a continued and even redoubled campaign of pressure on Iran from Congress. For some members of Congress, this campaign will genuinely be about legitimate areas of U.S. concern, including human rights and support for terror.  For many others, the campaign will be about exploiting any and all pretexts (including legitimate areas of concern) to try to undermine the JCPOA and return U.S. policy to the pre-JPOA-era – an era characterized by a zero-sum approach that inevitably boiled down to only military options and regime change fantasies. For some discussion in the media and online about this coming battle, see: Congress Sets Its Sights on Iran (Tyler Cullis writing in SanctionsLaw,com, 12/22); Congress braces for round two of Iran fight (The Hill, 12/27); New Iran sanctions fight looms in 2016 (Fox News, 12/28). Iran Deal Hits a Milestone as Challenges Mount (John Hudson writing in ForeignPolicy.com, 12/29).

Below is a summary of some of the battles immediately looming when Congress returns in 2016, based on initiatives that have already appeared.

New Iran Sanctions Under the Guise of New Visa Waiver Rules. 

This battle is already underway, and is by no means over. As discussed in the last edition of the Round-Up, the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015” was adopted as part of the Consolidated Approps bill, HR 2029. The legislation was passed by Congress ostensibly to address concerns about terrorism related to ISIS and al Qaeda. However, the legislation was written (it appears deliberately) to include Iran, in effect treating anyone who travels to Iran as a security risk. For travelers who hold passports that would normally permit them to travel to the U.S. without visas (as part of the Visa Waiver Program), the legislation strips them of this privilege if they have traveled to Iran. Moreover, since visa rules are nearly always based on reciprocity (other countries do unto our citizens as the U.S. does unto theirs), the new rules by extension turn Americans who travel to Iran into second-class citizens for purposes of travel abroad.

It must be emphasized that in all the years of U.S.-Iran tensions, Congress has NEVER BEFORE tried to limit the Visa Waiver Program in this manner. Only now, with the advent of the JCPOA era, is Congress seeking to subvert new security concerns (unrelated to Iran) to demonize travel to Iran, penalize those who engage in such travel, and effectively discourage travel to and relations with Iran.  Iranian officials have made clear that they view these unprecedented new travel rules as a new form of Iran sanctions (which, effectively, they are), intended to have a chilling effect on post-JCPOA relations between Iran and the world (which, effectively, they likely would), and a violation of the JCPOA.

The legislation, as adopted in HR 2029, includes authority for the State Department to waive the new rules, and Kerry has assured the Iranian foreign minister that the U.S. is committed to implementing the JCPOA and will not permit the new visa rules to block it. As a result, anti-JCPOA members of Congress – like the ones who sent the letters to Secretary Kerry discussed in Section 1, above (McCarthy et al letter to Secretaries Kerry and Johnson, Dold et al letter to Kerry, Pompeo letter to Kerry – are not happy. Making this clear – and making clear that what is in effect the imposition of a new Iran-related sanction was indeed deliberate – McCaul (R-TX) delivered this angry statement on 12/22:

“This Administration’s continued capitulation to Iran continues to reach new lows. In a desperate attempt to appease the regime in Tehran, the Secretary of State says he can bypass requirements in a law the President himself signed only days ago. But our government does not work like the Iranian regime, and the Secretary of State cannot throw the Constitution out the window.  This legislation was passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress, and it does not — and never was intended to — give the Administration blanket authority to exempt entire countries from new security measures we put in place to keep our country safe. Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of Islamist terrorism, and our message to them is clear: as long as you fuel networks of terror, individuals connected to your country will not be allowed to enter ours without closer scrutiny.”

For more reading on this, see: Iran threatens response to new U.S. visa restrictions (Reuters 12/28); US Visa Restrictions Blatant Violation of JCPOA: Iranian Diplomat (TasnimNews 12/28); Iranian-American Organizations Urge President Obama to Waive Discriminatory Visa Language (NIAC, 12/23); Iran says new US visa law goes against nuclear deal (AFP 12/20); Will US Visa Waiver Bill Undermine JCPOA and Iran’s Economy? (LobeLog 12/15, Shireen Hunter).

Iran Oversight – New Legislation & Hearings.

In 2016, members of Congress will be seeking to use their authority to impose oversight – through both legislation and in hearings – over the JCPOA and other issues related to Iran. It remains to be seen to what extent this is serious, legitimate oversight and to what extent it is a pretext for undermining the JCPOA.  As reported previously in the Round-Up, on 10/1 Senator Cardin (D-MD) and 8 Democratic cosponsors introduced S.2119,A bill to provide for greater congressional oversight of Iran's nuclear program, and for other purposes.” Cardin’s press release touting introduction of the bill is here. For excellent and comprehensive reporting/analysis/background on this bill, see here.

Subsequently, on 12/3, SFRC Chairman Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Cardin (D-MD) sent a letter to President Obama outlining their plans for ongoing oversight of the JCPOA. The letter states that the Committee will implement “a rigorous program to ensure effective Congressional monitoring and oversight of this agreement as well as its regional and nonproliferation implications.” The letter details plans for numerous hearings and briefings that will be part of this program of oversight and at which Administration officials will be expected to testify (press release here). The first of these oversight hearings was held 12/17 (details in Section 4, below). The tone of the hearing was clear from Corker’s opening statement, entitled in a press release, “Corker Says Failure to Impose Consequences for Iran’s Ballistic Missile Violations Sets Dangerous Precedent for Enforcement of Nuclear Deal.”

Targeting Iran over Ballistic Missile Tests.

Recent ballistic missile tests by Iran (in October and again in early December) appear to violate UN Security Council resolutions; however, they do not violate the JCPOA. For many members of Congress, this appears to be a distinction without a difference. In recent weeks a chorus of voices in Congress, from both sides of the aisle, has demanded a U.S. response to Iranian ballistic missile tests. It remains to be seen if Congress will move from such calls for action to efforts to legislate a U.S. response.

Letters (some also covered in Section 1, above):

Cardin et al letter to Obama: On 12/17, Sen. Cardin (D-MD) let a letter to President Obama, signed by 20 fellow Democratic senators, expressing the senators’ deep concern over “Iran’s continued violations of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1929 by testing a second ballistic missile on November 21, 2015…If there are no consequences for this violation, Iran’s leaders will certainly also question the willingness of the international community to respond to violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and UN Security Council Resolution 2231.”

Yoho et al letter to Obama: On 12/17, Rep. Yoho (R-FL) led a letter to President Obama, signed by more than 100 fellow House members, urging that “at the very least, further sanctions relief should be postponed until the U.N. undertakes a rigorous investigation of the [missile] launches and takes appropriate action. Iran must be held accountable for their [sic] behavior and they [sic] must not be rewarded.” In his statement on the release of the letter, Yoho threatened, “If President Obama will not take the necessary steps to hold Iran accountable, I, along with the support of my colleagues in the House and on the Foreign Affairs Committee, will make sure he does…”

Ayotte et al letter to Obama: On 12/16, Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) led a letter, signed by 35 other senators asserting that “it is a mistake to treat Iran's ballistic missile program as separate from Iran's nuclear program. Iran is developing ICBM capabilities for the sole purpose of enabling delivery of a nuclear weapon to the United States.” The letter suggests that the Obama Administration “is failing to respond to Iran's dangerous and destabilizing actions out of an eagerness to see the Iran deal go forward.” The letter urges President Obama “not lift sanctions on Iran that would provide billions of dollars in economic relief.”

Deutch-Kennedy letter to Obama: On 12/8, Reps. Deutch (D-FL) and Kennedy (D-MA) sent a letter to President Obama urging him to hold Iran accountable for violating United Nations Security Council Resolutions that prohibit ballistic missile testing.

Ayotte-Kirk letter to Obama: On 12/8, Sens. Ayotte (R-NH) and Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter to President Obama to ask how the administration plans to respond to Iran's most recent ballistic missile test.

Senate Dems letter: On 10/21, Senators Cardin (D-MD), Schumer (D-NY), Blumenthal (D-CT), Bennet (D-CO), Coons (D-DE), Shaheen (D-NH), Warner (D-VA), Markey (D-MA), Wyden (D-OR), Murphy (D-CT), and Booker (D-NJ) sent a letter to Secretary Kerry expressing profound concern about the October 11th Iranian ballistic missile test.  The letter concludes by stating: “We believe calibrated pressure on Iran is appropriate due to its clear non-compliance with UNSCR 1929 and to deter future violations.”

Ayotte-Kirk letter: On 10/14 Senators Ayotte (R-NH) and Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter to President Obama regarding the Iranian ballistic missile test.

Corker et al letter: On 10/14, Senators Corker (R-TN), Johnson (R-WI), Gardner (R-CO), Kaine (D-VA), Flake (R-AZ), Barrasso (R-WY), Perdue (R-GA), and Isakson (R-GA) sent a letter to Secretary Kerry asking him to clarify if the Iranian ballistic missile test violate the international ban.

Selected statements:

Sullivan (R-AK) 12/17: Arguing that Iran is violating the “spirit and intent” of the JCPOA and urging President Obama not to lift sanctions

Donnelly (D-IN) 12/17: “…The administration has made clear that the United States reserves the right under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to take action through our sanctions tools in response to Iran's support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, its illegal arms trafficking, and its ballistic missile program. It is time to back up those words with decisive and specific action.”

Thompson (R-PA) 12/17: “…recent Iranian ballistic missile tests in direct violation of sanctions by the United Nations show that this regime cannot be trusted… I urge the President to abandon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in order to make sure not $1 flows into the coffers of this terrorist regime.”

Royce (R-CA) 12/23: Obama Admin Must Stop Appeasing Iran

Shimkus (R-IL) 12/21: Obama foolish to trust Iran - Ballistic missile tests & purchase of Russian surface-to-air weapons violate the President’s own deal

Corker (R-TN) 10/28: Corker Presses State Department on U.S. Sanctions Against Iran for Violation of UN Ballistic Missile Test Ban

Lamborn (R-CO) 10/16: Accusing Iran of violating international law and once again opposing the JCPOA

Perdue (R-GA) 10/15: Iran’s Already Breaking Rules

Poliquin (R-ME) 10/15: Iran Developing and Test-Firing Long-Range Ballistic Missiles

Royce (D-CA) 10/14: Chairman Royce Demands Aggressive Obama Administration Response to Iranian Missile Test

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 10/14: White House Must Hold Iran Accountable for Ballistic Missile Test, Call for Emergency Security Council Session, Says Ros-Lehtinen

McCain (R-AZ) 10/12: Statement on “failed administration policy toward Iran

New Iran Sanctions (in the guise of extending old ones).

Back in June 2015, Sens. Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez (D-NJ) – from the outset two of the most active and vociferous opponents of diplomacy with Iran, as well as of the JPOA and eventually the JCPOA – introduced S. 1682,A bill to extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 and to require the Secretary of the Treasury to report on the use by Iran of funds made available through sanctions relief.” Kirk’s press release touting introduction of the bill – a bill that would extend sanctions on Iran until at least 2026 – is here. At the time, it was clear that the real purpose of the bill was to scuttle any agreement with Iran, and the bill stalled in committee.

Now, it appears that the Senate may be considering moving ahead with the legislation, right on time to coincide with the JCPOA’s “implementation day.” Whether or not Iran would consider extension of the sanctions a violation of the JCPOA is not clear. That said, it should be noted that the existing sanctions legislation does not expire until December 2016 – meaning that it is by no means imperative that Congress take action at this time. It is also worth noting that if Iran violates the JCPOA, there would be nothing preventing Congress from enacting new sanctions quickly.  The idea that “snap back” or a credible threat of “snap back” requires actions like extending the existing sanctions for another 10 years – sanctions that were crafted in the pre-JCPOA era, when sanctions were the ONLY tool of U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran – makes no sense at all.

Blocking sanctions relief with demands for more information.

Since the JCPOA was adopted, some members of Congress have doggedly insisted that the legally mandated congressional oversight period of the agreement has not yet started, since the Obama Administration has not produced and given to Congress “side agreements” between Iran and the IAEA. These members reject the argument that agreements between the IAEA and Iran are not part of the JCPOA. They also reject the argument that agreements between the IAEA and individual countries are confidential, and must be confidential in order for the IAEA to carry out its mandate.  These members of Congress have argued their case vociferously (as documented in previous round-ups), but to their frustration the JCPOA marches forward toward implementation (including with Iran shipping stocks of low-enriched uranium to Russia). But these opponents remain undeterred.

On 12/18, Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) and 10 GOP cosponsors introduced S. 2429: Introduced 12/18 by “To require a report on the military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program and to prohibit the provision of sanctions relief to Iran until Iran has verifiably ended all military dimensions of its nuclear program, and for other purposes.

In addition, on 12/3, Rep. Zinke (R-MT) and 30 cosponsors, introduced H. Res. 553,Urging the President and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to submit to Congress the text of all side agreements entered into between the IAEA and Iran with respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The resolution urges that Congressional approval of additional funding for the IAEA (vital for overseeing implementation of the JCPOA and ensuring that Iran does not cheat),  “the President and the IAEA submit to Congress the text of all side agreements entered into between the IAEA and Iran with respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” 

In addition, on 12/16, Rep. King (R-IA) offered an amendment to the FY16 Omnibus Appropriations bill (it was not considered), that sought to “defund the Iran deal.” The amendment state that “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to fund the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran and submitted to the Congress on July 19, 2015, or any side deals to the nuclear agreement (including all related materials and annexes) between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran.” (King’s press release is here)

Targeting Iran: IRGC & other angles.

Opponents of the JCPOA, along with some members who are genuinely concerned by specific issues related to the Iranian government’s behavior, are looking for various angles, other than the nuclear program, to squeeze Iran. A favorite angle that has emerged is going after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). A number of different pieces of legislation have already be introduced focused on the IRGC, and using concerns about the IRGC as a pretext for blocking lifting of sanctions, as required under the JCPOA. These include:

  • HR 4312 (introduced 12/18 by Sherman (D-CA) and 5 cosponsors, “To provide for more effective sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps or any of its officials, agents, or affiliates to counter support for international terrorism and assistance to the Assad regime in Syria,”)
  • HR 4258 (introduced 12/15 by Roskam (R-IL) and 3 GOP cosponsors, “To impose sanctions against any entity with respect to which Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps owns, directly or indirectly, a 20 percent or greater interest in the entity, and for other purposes
  • HR 4257 (introduced 12/15 by Nunes (R-CA) and 27 all-GOP cosponsors, To protect the American and Iranian peoples as well as the global economy from Iran’s systematic abjuration of international legal standards on human and civil rights, its support for international terrorism, and the corrosive economic malfeasance of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and for other purposes
  • HR 3646 and S. 2094 (introduced 9/29 in the House by McCaul (R-TX) and 14 GOP cosponsors, and in the Senate by Cruz (R-TX) and no cosponsors, the “IRGC Terrorist Designation Act.”
  • HR 3662 (introduced 10/1 by Russell (R-OK) and 20 cosponsors, “To enhance congressional oversight over the administration of sanctions against certain Iranian terrorism financiers, and for other purposes.”

Targeting Iran: Victims of terrorism.

Congress has long sought to hold Iran accountable for terrorism against American citizens, including those Americans taken hostage in the U.S. embassy (and their families).  In this vein, HR 3457 and S. 2086: The “Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act,” was introduced in the House 9/9 by Meehan (R-PA) and picked up and introduced in the Senate 9/28 by Toomey (R-PA). These bills seek to prevent Iran sanctions being lifted (under the JCPOA) until Iran makes good on outstanding judgments in the cases of U.S. victims of Iranian-backed terror.

On 9/30, the White House issued a Statement of Policy strongly opposing HR 3457 (and by extension, S. 2086 or anything else like it), noting that the bill would prevent the U.S. from fulfilling its commitments under the JCPOA. The SAP states clearly that the President will veto the bill if it is passed by Congress. On 10/1, the House nonetheless voted to suspend the rules and passed HR 3457 (which by that point had 118 cosponsors, all Republicans) by a vote of 251-173 (all Republicans voted in favor; 10 Democrats voted in favor and 173 voted against). The transcript of the House floor debate is here. For an interesting take, see this article in Roll Call by Sara Shourd, who was held prisoner in Iran: Iran Terrorism Bill Won’t Help U.S. Hostages.

Supporting/Encouraging U.S. States to Impose/Maintain Sanctions on Iran. 

December 1 saw the introduction of H. Con. Res. 100 and S. Con. Res.26 (by Roskam (R-IL) and 5 cosponsors in the House, and Kirk (R-IL) and 2 cosponsors in the Senate), “Expressing the sense of the Congress regarding the right of States and local governments to maintain economic sanctions against Iran.” Roskam press release is here. Kirk press release is here.

 

4. Hearings

12/17: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Status of JCPOA Implementation and Related Issues.” Witnesses were: Stephen Mull, Department of State’s Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation (testimony); Tom Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation (testimony); and Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, USAF (Ret), Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator (testimony). Chairman Corker’s (R-TN) statement is here (entitled, “Corker Says Failure to Impose Consequences for Iran’s Ballistic Missile Violations Sets Dangerous Precedent for Enforcement of Nuclear Deal”). Video of the hearing is here. Comments from Menendez (D-NJ) are here. Press release from Gardner (R-CO) is here (entitled, “Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Reveals Obama Administration’s Permissive Attitude Towards Iran.”

12/16: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled, “Egypt Two Years After Morsi (Part II).” Witnesses were: David Schenker, WINEP [statement], Eric Bjornlund, Democracy International [statement], and  Steven Cook, CFR [statement]. Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) opening statement is here (entitled, “Egypt Should Be Treated As a Friend and Ally as We Look to Strengthen Our Important Security Partnership and Improve Human Rights, Says Ros-Lehtinen.”

 

5. On the Record

Donovan (R-NY) 12/30: Donovan Blasts Obama, Kerry for Appeasing Iran at Expense of American Security [with respect to new visa restrictions]

Nunes (R-CA) 12/30: “The House Intelligence Committee is looking into allegations in the Wall Street Journal regarding possible Intelligence Community (IC) collection of communications between Israeli government officials and Members of Congress.  The Committee has requested additional information from the IC to determine which, if any, of these allegations are true, and whether the IC followed all applicable laws, rules, and procedures.”

Zeldin (R-NY) 12/30: Congressman Zeldin Calls for Investigations into NSA Spying on Members of Congress’ Conversations with Israeli Leadership

Royce (R-CA) 12/23: Obama Admin Must Stop Appeasing Iran

McCaul (R-TX) 12/22: This Administration’s continued capitulation to Iran continues to reach new lows. In a desperate attempt to appease the regime in Tehran, the Secretary of State says he can bypass requirements in a law the President himself signed only days ago. But our government does not work like the Iranian regime, and the Secretary of State cannot throw the Constitution out the window.  This legislation was passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress, and it does not — and never was intended to — give the Administration blanket authority to exempt entire countries from new security measures we put in place to keep our country safe. Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of Islamist terrorism, and our message to them is clear: as long as you fuel networks of terror, individuals connected to your country will not be allowed to enter ours without closer scrutiny.”

Shimkus (R-IL) 12/21: Obama foolish to trust Iran - Ballistic missile tests & purchase of Russian surface-to-air weapons violate the President’s own deal

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 12/18: Accusing the UN of trying to “delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel and to try to whitewash the Jewish people's historical and biblical connection to Israel,” and pointing to archeological finds in the City of David that “prove the roots of the Jewish people are in Israel.”

Sullivan (R-AK) 12/17: Arguing that Iran is violating the “spirit and intent” of the JCPOA and urging President Obama not to lift sanctions

Donnelly (D-IN) 12/17: “I speak today to call on the administration--if the international community will not act together--to take unilateral action readily available to them under current law to respond decisively to Iran's ballistic missile tests. The administration has made clear that the United States reserves the right under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to take action through our sanctions tools in response to Iran's support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, its illegal arms trafficking, and its ballistic missile program. It is time to back up those words with decisive and specific action.”

Thompson (R-PA) 12/17: “…recent Iranian ballistic missile tests in direct violation of sanctions by the United Nations show that this regime cannot be trusted… I urge the President to abandon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in order to make sure not $1 flows into the coffers of this terrorist regime.”

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 12/17: Ros-Lehtinen Lauds Resolve Of Congress to Uphold U.S. Law, Continue to Prohibit Funding of UNESCO With Taxpayer Money

Foxx (R-NC) 12/17: Calling out the American Anthropological Association for its adoption of “a disgraceful resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions”

Gohmert (R-TX) 12/17: You can’t make this stuff up: “ …by this administration's saying there is no pluralism in Islam--it is all good, and there are no bad people who are claiming to be and who actually are Islamic--it does a great disservice to moderate Muslims who would like to stand up and take it on. There have been wonderful friends of the United States who have. President el-Sisi in Egypt has, and others have. For some reason, this administration chooses to alienate those who are Muslim who would stand up against radical Islam, as if they don't have enough problems as it is.”

Green (D-TX) 12/16: Speaking in support of resolution honoring the American Jewish Committee, and asserting (among other things) that the AJC “is a champion not only of human rights for Israel, but also for Palestinians. The AJC supports a two-state solution. The AJC encourages peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. The AJC believes that a peaceful solution with the parties negotiating it is the best way to have a long and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Smith (R-NJ) 12/16: The Christian and Yezidi Genocide

Sanchez (D-CA) 12/16: “Although the IAEA report reconfirmed what we already knew about Iran’s intentions to develop weapons in the past, it is unacceptable that Iran failed to be fully transparent about these activities…Iran must understand that sanctions are not off the table and if Iran fails to comply with any part of the Joint Agreement or continues to violate U.N. resolutions, Congress will take action.”

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