APN Legislative Round-Up: Week Ending October 25, 2013

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Will Congress Ignore Obama & Pass New Iran Sanctions?
3. Hearings/Briefings
4. Members on the Record
5. From the Press

Briefly noted:
10/21 LFriedman article at the Daily Beast/Open Zion: Two Blockbuster New Reports on Settlements

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(RUSSIA/IRAN) Ros-Lehtinen et al: On 10/23, Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rogers (R-AL), Chairs of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, respectively, sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry expressing concern over "ongoing Russian activities with Iran regarding advanced conventional weapons sales, including new air defenses." The letter argued that "Such Russian cooperation with Iran, at the same time that Russia is reportedly working to terminate Iran's nuclear weapons program, necessarily undermines those efforts." The letter urges Kerry to warn Russia that these kinds of weapons sales violate U.S. law and may trigger sanctions. The letter also urges Kerry "to ensure the highest level of intelligence cooperation possible with Israel and other allies who may have security interests in Iran not being able to receive or use any such advanced Russian military technology or hardware." The letter concludes with a veiled warning that the authors are considering "legislative responses to the clear threat" posed to "U.S. national security interests and our allies in the region" by the potential transfer of these advanced conventional weapons systems to Iran. Press release on the letter here.

(ATTACKS ON COPTIC CHRISTIANS IN EYGPT) Corker et al letter: On 10/22 Senators Corker (R-TN), Alexander (R-TN) and Blunt (R-MO) sent a letter to President Obama making the case that: "Egypt's Christian minority and their ability to worship are in danger. The situation warrants a clear U.S. response." The urge the President to "highlight the responsibility of interim Egyptian government to protect Coptic Christians and other minorities." They also request to be informed of "the specific steps the State Department is taking to reinforce this issue with the Egyptian government, as well as the specific steps the Egyptian government is taking to protect Coptic churches, communities, and individuals." In addition, they state: "we ask that you move quickly to nominate someone with exceptional qualifications in the field of human rights and religious freedoms to be the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom." Video of Corker on Fox News speaking about the letter can be found here.

(RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS) Inhofe letter: On 10/24, Sen. Inhofe (R-KS) sent a letter to Secretary Kerry urging the United States leverage its influence to end the increasing practice in the Middle East to silence religious freedom.

(MISSILE DEFENSE) Portman letter: On 10/22 Senator Portman (R-OH) sent a letter to Vice Admiral James Syring, the Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, lobbying for the selection of Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center in Ravenna, Ohio, as the location of a potential a third Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) site. The letter argues that the current GMD configuration (based in Alaska and California) "is not ideal for defending against an ICBM launched from the Middle East, and given Iran's steadily increasing ballistic missile capabilities, there is an acute need to address the weaknesses in the current configuration."

2. Will Congress Ignore Obama & Pass New Iran Sanctions?

The big Middle East-related debate this week was over whether Congress will cave to pressure (internal and external) to go ahead and pass new Iran sanctions, despite the glimmer of promise offered in the new Iran negotiations and despite the Obama Administration explicitly asking Congress to hold off for the time being.

There were some signs this week that Democrats in Congress are ready, at least for now, to give talks a chance. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Engel (D-NY), speaking about Iran 10/22 to the Jewish Community Relations Council Panel, talked about being open to "freezing" further action on pending sanctions legislation, subject to certain conditions being fulfilled. Specifically, he stated:

"Earlier this year, the House passed a new Iran sanctions bill, which I co-authored along with Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to take up similar legislation in the near future. I would be open to freezing further legislative action on this new sanctions bill if Iran quickly takes a number of concrete and fully verifiable steps. First, Iran must freeze all enrichment, as demanded repeatedly by the UN Security Council. It must stop the installation of new centrifuges, and halt construction of the Arak heavy water reactor, which could produce plutonium. It must agree to remove all of its 20 percent enriched uranium from the country. Finally, it must allow comprehensive nuclear inspections by the IAEA. If Iran takes all of these steps, and they are fully verified, there will be no immediate need for additional nuclear sanctions."

That statement came before the White House took its case directly to the Hill, briefing senior Congressional leaders and staff on 10/24 on the status of current Iran negotiations, reassuring them about U.S. positions, and pressing for Congress to hold off on further sanctions. According to some reports, those briefings were well-received and may have done the job. Other reports suggest that the jury is still out.

At the same time, pressure continues for Congress to ignore President Obama (and the wide range of experts who believe that now is not the time to undermine diplomacy) and push ahead with new sanctions. On 10/25, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) responded to news of the Obama Administration's briefings in the Senate with a message of its own, widely disseminated on the Hill and in the media: "RJC to Senate: Pass New Iran Sanctions Now to Counter Growing Nuclear Threat." It is worth noting that the RJC is chaired by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who in addition to being a huge backer of Netanyahu and the owner of Israel's free mass-circulation newspaper "Israel Hayom" (popularly referred to as "Bibiton"), this week called for a U.S. nuclear strike on Iran. For more on that story, see here, here, and here.

Further reading on the White House-Congress angle:

Washington Post blog (Jennifer Rubin) 10/25: Congress remains 'skeptical' on Iran
The Hill 10/24: Dems could break with Obama on Iran
Reuters 10/24: White House presses Senate to delay new Iran sanctions
Israel Hayom 10/24: Report: White House working to stop Congress from siding with Netanyahu on Iran [paper owned by Sheldon Adelson]
Buzzfeed 10/23: White House Meeting With Congress On Iran Thursday, May Ask For Delay In Sanctions
The Cable 10/23: Despite AIPAC Lobbying, Obama Admin Calms Congress on Iran Talks)
Israel Hayom 10/22: Will Democrats bend to Obama? [paper owned by Sheldon Adelson]
Al-Monitor/Back Channel 10/21: U.S. negotiator to brief Congress on Iran talks

Further reading on Congress-Iran Sanctions in general:

ThinkProgress 10/24: Hawks Pushing 'Zero Enrichment' Have Been Calling For War With Iran
Boston Globe (Nick Burns) 10/24: A balancing act for Iran end game
The Hill (blog) 10/24: Franks legislation authorizes military force against Iran
AP 10/22: Any US-Iran nuclear deal faces hard sell in Congress
ThinkProgress 10/21: Top GOP Senator [Graham, R-SC]: 'The Time For Talking' With Iran 'Is Over'
Reuters 10/21: Netanyahu's mission: to head off Iran sanctions relief "...What Netanyahu hears at his meeting with Kerry could help to determine whether Israel, backed by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbying group, will opt to turn to its traditional allies in the U.S. Congress to press President Barack Obama to stand tough on Iran."
Politico (Joel Rubin) 10/20: Iran's diplomatic thaw with the West

3. Hearings/briefings

10/31: [LATE ADDITION TO THIS WEEK'S ROUND-UP] The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing 10/31 entitled "Syria." The scheduled first panel of witnesses will be: US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Tom Countryman, and USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg. Panel two (so far) consists of Fred Hof, from the Atlantic Council.

10/30: Joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations & Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, "Establishing a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal?" Scheduled witnesses are: Michael Newton, Vanderbilt University Law School; David Crane, Syracuse University College of Law & Former Chief Prosecutor, United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone; Alan White, AW Associates & Former Chief Investigator, United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone; Jeremy Rabkin, George Mason University School of Law; and Stephen Rademaker, Bipartisan Policy Center

10/29: Hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "Next Steps on Egypt Policy." Scheduled witnesses are: Beth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; and Alina Romanowski, Deputy Assistant USAID Administrator for the Middle East.

10/24: The House Foreign Affairs Committee hosted a members-only briefing with Yuval Steinitz, Minister of Strategic Affairs and Intelligence Affairs of the State of Israel. Planned topics of discussion were reportedly "Iran, Egypt and other Middle Eastern issues." For more on Steinitz's agenda for this US visit, see: JTA 10/25: Steinitz to U.S.: Israel's 'minimum' is no enrichment and The Forward 10/24: Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz Takes Hard Line on Iran

4. Members on the Record

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Israel (D-NY) 10/23: Giving Voice to the Jewish Community in Iraq, Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Israel Urge the Return of Historical Treasures to Rightful Owners
Schiff (D-CA) 10/23: Sustaining the Arab Spring
Rogers (R-MI), Engel (D-NY) 10/22: Video of "The Crisis in Syria" panel from the 2013 FPI Forum
Casey (D-PA) 10/21: Statement on Announcement of Geneva Talks Aimed At Resolution of Conflict in Syria
Ayotte (R-NH), Graham (R-SC), & Kirk (R-IL) 10/18: Statement on Iran sanctions ("Now is a time to strengthen-not weaken-U.S. and international sanctions")
Rubio (R-FL) 10/18: Statement expressing disappointment with the delay in the Obama Administration's nomination of a new Ambassador for Religious Freedom

5. From the Press

Jerusalem Post 10/25: Israel Allies Caucus of US Congress congratulates Barkat on election win
Times of Israel 10/22: 'US canceled deal to supply Turkey with drones'
AP 10/22: Lindsey Graham Holds Up Millions In Egypt Aid
Al Jazeera American 10/21: Egypt's lobby by proxy wields outsize influence in DC
Politico 10/19: Barack Obama's Egypt coup conundrum