APN Legislative Round-Up: Sept. 13 through Oct. 9, 2013

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Iran Charm Offensive, Meet Congressional Wall
3. Iran Pandering, Meet Government Shutdown Point-Scoring
4. Congressional Reaction/Concern Over Syria Deal
5. Hearings
6. Members on the Record (on other issues)
7. From the Press

Note: As readers may have noticed, the publication schedule for the Round-Up has been erratic in recent weeks - due to a combination of Jewish holidays, travel, and DC visitors. The normal publication schedule (every Friday, when Congress is in session) should resume next week.

Briefly noted:

New Peace Now publication: The Price of the Settlements - or How Israel Favors Settlers & Settlements (10/8)
APN Panel at J Street: Settlements--Not Too Late for Two States, feat. Yariv Oppenheimer, Danny Seidemann, Dan Rothem, and Lara Friedman (Video) (9/29)
LFriedman response to NYT article by Ian Lustick: Israel, Palestine, and the Dangers of Magical Thinking (9/18)

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(AUMF AGAINST IRAN, CONDITIONS ON NEGOTIATIONS/AGREEMENT) HR XXXX: Text began circulating this week of new Iran legislation, authored by Franks (R-AZ). Franks is also circulating a Dear Colleague seeking support for the bill and noting his intention to introduce the measure on 10/10 "a week before the 15 October diplomatic meetings with Iran in Geneva, Switzerland." On 9/19 Franks issued a press release announcing his intention to introduce the legislation (Franks reportedly told the Republican Study Committee about his plans to do so on 9/11).

While Franks' bill is innocently entitled the "United States-Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act," its main function is to authorize the use of force against Iran (not using those exact words, but having the same effect; anyone who argues that the bill doesn't explicitly authorize force should take note of the headline of Franks' 9/19 press release about the bill: "Franks Calls for Authorization of Military Force in Iran").

With respect to "Nuclear Negotiations," the bill includes a section encouragingly titled "Support for United States Diplomatic Efforts." However, this section in reality is an effort to handcuff U.S. diplomatic efforts by imposing far-reaching preconditions on any agreement with Iran (including, in effect, a total shuttering of Iranian nuclear activities). In the impossible-to-imagine-event that these preconditions were satisfied, the bill goes on to stipulate additional far-reaching conditions on the content of any agreement. These conditions not only deal with the nuclear issue, but also require Iran to cease support for terrorist groups, to demonstrate "peaceful foreign policy conduct and actions," to issue "full recognition of its neighbors' sovereignty, including Israel," and to cease "all threats against the U.S. and Israel." In addition, the bill seeks to impose additional sanctions.

By all accounts this legislation is a purely Trent Franks production and unlikely to go anywhere in its current form. That said, many believe there is growing support/pressure in Congress (and possibly on Congress) for an Iran AUMF. This support/pressure comes both from those arguing that it was the Syria AUMF threat that convinced Syria and Russia to make a deal on Syria's chemical weapons, and those arguing that the Syria AUMF debacle makes it imperative that Congress demonstrate to Iran that, opposition to Syria military engagement notwithstanding, the U.S. is ready to use military force in the Iran context. In particular, as discussed in Section 2, below, Senator Graham (R-SC) has made clear his intention (or see here or here) to pursue an Iran AUMF, most likely as part of broader Iran legislation or as an amendment to major legislation, like the National Defense Authorization Act (HR 1960/S 1197). For further discussion, see this post in The Cable. NIAC's action alert opposing Iran war bills can be found here; Peace Action West's action alert is here.

(SUPPORTING ISRAEL-PALESTINE PEACE EFFORTS) H. Res. 365: Introduced 9/27 by Schakowsky (D-IL) and currently having a total of 31 cosponsors [including original cosponsors Waxman (D-CA) and Nadler (D-FL)], "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives commending efforts by the United States to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated two-state solution." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This resolution, which is strongly endorsed by APN, was a key ask as part of last week's J Street lobby day in the House.

(SUPPORTING ISRAEL-PALESTINE PEACE EFFORTS) S. Res. 203: Introduced 7/30 by Feinstein (D-CA), and currently having 4 cosponsors, "A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding efforts by the United States to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated two-state solution." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. This resolution, which is strongly endorsed by APN, was a key ask as part of last week's J Street lobby day in the Senate.

(CONDITIONS FOR POTUS MEETING WITH ROUHANI) S. Res. 252: Introduced 9/24 by Cruz (R-TX) and having no cosponsors, "A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on steps the Government of Iran must take before President Obama meets with the President of Iran." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Cruz's press release touting the introduction of the resolution is available here. Notably, Cruz's conditions have nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program, but, rather, are limited to the demand that Iran: "(1) affirms the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state; and (2) immediately and without conditions releases all United States citizens unjustly detained as prisoners of conscience in Iran."

(COMPENSATION FOR IRAN HOSTAGES) HR 3200: Introduced 9/27 by Braley (D-IA) and no cosponsors, the "Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013." Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(SPECIAL ENVOY FOR MIDEAST MINORITIES) HR 301: Introduced 1/15 by Wolf (R-VA) and 72 cosponsors, "To provide for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia." Passed 9/18 under suspension of the rules by a vote of 402-22. Wolf statement on the passage of the bill is available here.

(IRAN AMENDMENT) HR 761: On 9/18 Rep. Ciciline (D-RI) offered a motion on the House floor to recommit HR 760, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, back to the Committee on Natural Resources, with instructions to report the bill back to the House with an amendment (offered by Ciciline) regarding Iran. The amendment would have barred the issuance of any Federal mineral exploration or mine permit to any company in which China or Iran has an ownership interest, or to any person or entity that has been convicted of violating Iran sanctions legislation. The text of Ciciline's amendment is available in the House floor proceeding, here. Rep. Amodei (R-NV), the lead sponsor of the bill, opposed the amendment on the floor, noting that the issues raised by Cicline are already addressed under existing law. The motion to recommit was defeated by a vote of 197-229, with 6 not voting.

2. Iran Charm Offensive, Meet Congressional Wall

On 9/24, Iranian president Hasan Rouhani addressed the United Nations General Assembly. On 9/27, news broke that Rouhani and President Obama had spoken on the phone. Both events came on the heels of what has been widely described as Rouhahi's "charm offensive," which has included tweets (discussed here and here, for example), an op-ed in the Washington Post, and interviews, including with NBC's Ann Curry (in Tehran) and CNN's Christiane Amanpour (in New York). Notably, during the Amanpour interview, when asked whether he denied the Holocaust took place, he replied, "any crime or - that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people, is reprehensible and condemnable, as far as we are concerned." [emphasis added] He subsequently told reporters, in a different interview, "The Nazis carried out a massacre that cannot be denied, especially against the Jewish people."

Congress on Rouhani, before the UNGA Speech (selected examples)

September 15 and 17: On September 15, Sen. Graham (R-SC) said on a FOX Sunday talk show that he will seek congressional authorization for a military strike on Iran as "a clear signal that this debacle called Syria doesn't mean we're confused about Iran." On the 17th, Graham (R-SC) said that he was "working on legislation that would give the president the green light to attack Iran if negotiations over the country's alleged nuclear weapons program stall." Graham has been talking about pushing an Iran AUMF for some time (see Section 1, above, for details), but the Syria AUMF debacle and the Iran charm offensive appear to have combined to add urgency to his effort.

September 19: Franks (R-AZ) calls for an Authorization of Military Force against Iran (for details, see Section 1, above).

September 20: HFAC/Middle East Subcommittee Chair Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) issued a statement entitled "Administration Level [sic] Talks with Rouhani over Iran's Nuclear Program at Next Week's UN General Assembly is [sic] Fool's Errand." The statement warned the Obama Administration not to fall for Rouhani's charm offensive and made clear Ros-Lehtinen's view that there is no point in testing Rouhani's seriousness, since his agenda is already a foregone conclusion.

September 23: Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Graham (R-SC) sent a letter to President Obama stating, "we urge you to re-state the United States position that we will not permit Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability" [notwithstanding the fact that this is the position of Congress, not the Obama Administration; the Obama Administration's position is the Iran will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons]. The letter also reiterates the view that unless and until Iran takes verifiable action to "terminate its nuclear weapons program" [a program that U.S. intelligence does not believe exists at present], the four strategic elements necessary to achieve a resolution of this issue are: "an explicit and continuing message [must be] that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, the maintenance and toughening of sanctions and a convincing threat of the use of force." (Press release here).

September 23: Senators Schumer (D-NJ) and McCain (R-AZ) sent a letter to President Obama opposing any Iran sanctions relief before Iran takes "meaningful and verifiable actions to halt its nuclear activities." The letter also argues that "strengthening the threat of force will be necessary if talks with Iran are to succeed."

September 24: Senators Rubio (R-FL), Roberts (R-KS), Cornyn (R-TX), Hoeven (R-ND), Risch (R-ID), Vitter (R-LA), Blunt (R-MO), Boozman (R-AR), Cruz (R-TX), Coats (R-IN), and Barrasso (R-WY) came together to send a letter to Obama calling for increased pressure on Iran. The letter went so far as to suggest that Obama "might be considering offering a new proposal that would leave the door open to a nuclear Iran, perhaps allowing Iran to preserve part of its nuclear weapons program." (Press release here). In addition, Cruz (R-TX) introduced legislation putting preconditions on any Obama meeting with Rouhani (text of the resolution is here, press release touting the resolution is here).

Congress Responds to Rouhani UNGA Speech

September 24: In response to the UN speech, SFRC chair Menendez (D-NJ) issued a statement noting that "...words must be followed by action in the form of a credible and verifiable agreement to terminate Iran's nuclear weapons program." For his part, HFAC chair Royce (R-CA) issued a statement calling for increased "crippling" sanctions on Iran. HFAC Ranking Member Engel (D-NY) expressed disappointment at Rouhani's UN speech, noting that "the international community must continue to demand a complete and verifiable freeze of Iran's nuclear weapons program" [a program that U.S. intelligence does not believe exists at present], and in the meantime calling for increased sanctions. SFRC/Middle East Subcommittee Ranking Member Risch (R-ID), responded with a statement expressing skepticism about Iran's "Charm Campaign." HFAC/Middle East subcommittee chair Ros-Lehtinen issued a call for increased Iran sanctions. Senators McCain (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC) and Ayotte (R-NH) joined forces to issue a statement supporting the Obama Administration in testing the Iranian regime's intentions, but expressing deep skepticism (and making clear that the nuclear issue is not the only thing on the agenda with Iran).

In the days that followed, the narrative of Congressional mistrust and eagerness for more sanctions continued to gain momentum. On 9/25, Royce (R-CA) & Engel (D-NY) published a joint op-ed in the LA Times entitled, "U.S. needs action, not words, from Iran." The op-ed calls for the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran "to show our seriousness" and notes that "there will not be support in Congress for an easing of sanctions absent a significant and lasting change in Iran's behavior." That same day, Duncan (R-SC), issued a statement objecting to any contacts between Obama Administration and Iranian officials (something that was rumored to be in the works at the time), and Weber (R-TX), issued a statement calling for the Senate to pass the new sanctions bill sent to it earlier this year by the House.

On 9/26, Clarke (D-NY) issued a statement expressing cautious optimism about Rouhani's statements, but opposing any sanctions relief until Iranian words backed by actions.

On 9/27, Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Graham (R-SC) joined forces to publish an op-ed in the Washington Post, entitled: "Iran's messenger has changed. Its message has not." The money quote from that oped noted: "We believe that four strategic elements are necessary to achieve a resolution of this issue: an explicit and continuing message that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, the maintenance and toughening of sanctions and a convincing threat of the use of force."

All that being said, there were some encouraging voices on the Hill, including Schiff (D-CA), who issued a statement (not posted online), noting, "Yesterday's speeches at the United Nations General Assembly by both President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani are another indication that we may be witnessing the early stages of a thaw in relations between the United States and Iran...I support the President's decision to open talks with Iran to see if we can end more than three decades of enmity, and put an end to Iran's nuclear weapons program through diplomatic means."

Congress Responds to Rouhani-Obama Call

As one might have expected, on 9/27 Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) condemned the Obama-Rouhani phone call, arguing that it would only strengthen Rouhani, increasing his "credibility on the world stage. She suggested that this, in turn, "will only further embolden the regime to continue its crackdown on its citizens and will buy it more time to complete its nuclear weapons program." Rogers (R-MI), suggested that diplomacy is pointless because no deal is possible with the "mullahs of Iran." He implied that Obama might be tempted to make a deal for "posterity's sake" or a deal that is bad for the U.S., and called instead for increased sanctions.

On the other end of the spectrum, Ellison (D-MN) welcomed the Obama-Rouhani phone call as a positive step, and Garamendi (D-CA) issued a statement entitled, "First Conversation Between Presidents of America & Iran Since 1979 a Potential 'Nixon in China' Moment."

Somewhere in between these two poles, HFAC ranking member Engel (D-NY), noted that "The President's telephone conversation with Iranian President Rouhani marks an important step in efforts to find a peaceful end to Iran's quest for a nuclear weapons capability. While such engagement is an encouraging sign, for real progress to be made, Iran will have to take meaningful and verifiable steps to freeze, and ultimately end its nuclear weapons program." Likewise, Casey (D-PA) welcomed the Obama-Rouhani phone call as "encouraging news" but cautioned that it is Iran's actions that matter.

Congress and AIPAC (and others) Dig in on Iran, Post-UNGA

Over the past two weeks, the drumbeat for ever-tougher positions on Iran has gotten ever-louder. On 10/3, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing (discussed in Section 5, below) regarding Iran's nuclear program. During that hearing, Wendy Sherman, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, argued against new Iran sanctions, at least for now. This position was largely scorned by members of the Committee during the hearing. Sens. Kirk (R-IL) and Rep. Royce (R-CA) issued statements rejecting it (Kirk called instead for "maximum economic pressure" in the form of new Iran sanctions). On 10/4, Royce followed up with a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (press release here; letter here) pressing the Department of Treasury to "Continue Essential Iran Sanctions Enforcement," despite the government shutdown. And on 10/7, 78 freshman House members sent a letter to Obama calling for more sanctions on Iran (press release here; letter here).

Also, on October 7, AIPAC issued and circulated widely (including on the Hill) a new policy memo entitled, "Iran Must Suspend Nuclear Activities for Diplomacy to Succeed." The money quote from that memo is: "America must clearly signal that it will consider no easing of sanctions until Iran has verifiably suspended its nuclear program. If Iran's nuclear activities continue, the United States and the international community should escalate sanctions and reinforce President Obama's message that a credible military option is on the table to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapon." In terms of what this may mean in Congress, the memo goes on to call on the Senate to pass HR 850, imposing broad new Iran sanctions. It addition, it lays out what could well be the blueprint for upcoming Iran legislation, listing the following priorities: continuing efforts to persuade oil-importing countries to "dramatically reduce" purchases from Iran, including by imposing sanctions on those complicit in such purchases; imposing further sanctions on people and financial institutions that deal with Iranian banks; imposing sanctions on "major remaining sectors of the Iranian economy," and demonstrating "a credible military threat." In addition, earlier this summer (beginning on August 23rd) a large number of U.S. Jewish organizations came together in a JCPA-led petition (backed by nationwide action alerts like this one, dated Oct. 4) urging the Senate to pass HR 850. As of this writing, that petition has 4008 signers.

At the same time, there has been some pushback in Congress in favor of diplomacy. This week, head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Feinstein (D-CA) , told the Wall Street Journal, "There are people in Iran, just as there are people here, who would not want to see an agreement." As reported in ThinkProgress, she was "alluding to the dissent of several of her colleagues on whether the Obama administration should test the new tone from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani." It is also being reported that the Senate Banking Committee has acquiesced to the White House's request to hold off on marking up Iran sanctions legislation for the time being [earning it an accusation of "appeasement" from committee member Kirk (R-IL)].

Further reading:
Salon.com 10/2: New sanctions likely despite thaw in US-Iran ties

Nuclear Program Not the Only Issue

Throughout this entire period, an energetic cohort in Congress has strived to keep on the Iran-U.S. agenda certain issues unrelated to Iran's nuclear program.

The main focus has been the imprisonment in Iran of Pastor Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati. On 9/23, Kildee (D-MI) issued a press release entitled, "64 Members of Congress, Led by Congressman Dan Kildee, Call on Iran to Release Amir Hekmati as U.N. General Assembly Starts," and on Kildee (D-MI) issued a call to the government of Iran to free Amir Hekmati. On 9/26, Senator Rubio (R-FL) published an op-ed in the Christian Post entitled, "One Year Anniversary of US Citizen Saeed Abedini's Imprisonment in Iran." That same day, Pittinger (R-NC), made a statement on the House floor regarding the imprisonment of Abedini (he later entered into the record the text of a letter on the subject from the Rev. Billy Graham referenced in his 9/26 statement). On 9/28, upon learning that Obama raised the fate of Abedini with Rouhani during their phone call, Pittinger released a statement calling this "encouraging." However, on 9/30, Labrador (R-ID), called for a halt to all diplomacy with Iran until Abedini is released.

On another note entirely, on 9/30 Sherman (D-CA) issued an outraged statement entitled, "Iranian Foreign Minister Lies About Holocaust on Stephanopoulos Show." The title implies (to people familiar with the issue) that Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif went on TV and engaged in Holocaust denial - which would be in contrast to other recent statements by Iranian President Rouhani (here and here). In fact, Sherman is actually accusing Zarif of lying about the proper translation of a statement by Supreme Leader Khameni about the Holocaust. In what appears to be an example of Sherman refusing to take "yes" for an answer (to the question, will an Iranian official acknowledge the Holocaust), Sherman glosses over/omits mention of the fact that Zarif explicitly told George Stephanopoulos that, in his view, the Holocaust was "...a heinous crime, it was a genocide, it must never be allowed to be repeated..."

In addition, there was the Cruz resolution (detailed in section 1, above), which would require that before any meeting between Obama and Rouhani: Iran "(1) affirms the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state; and (2) immediately and without conditions releases all United States citizens unjustly detained as prisoners of conscience in Iran."

Finally, it is probably not a coincidence that on 9/27, Rep. Braley (D-IA) introduced new legislation (HR 3200) dealing with compensation for former American hostages in Iran.

3. Iran Policy, Meet Government Shutdown Point-Scoring

Three major Iran-related (and/or Syria-related and/or Russia-related) themes have emerged in the context of the government shutdown, as follows:

Theme 1: "Obama will negotiate with terrorists and evildoers, but not with Republicans"

In the context of the looming, then actual, government shutdown, many Republicans appeared to be speaking off the same talking points, accusing President Obama of being willing to negotiate with Syria and/or Russia (over the Syrian chemical weapons threat) and/or Iran (over the nuclear threat) but not with Congressional Republicans (over the shutdown-everything-over-ObamaCare threat). This seems to beg the questions: (a) Are GOP'ers in effect admitting that they see shutting down the government was the political equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction? and (b) Are GOP's concerned about this framing, given the widely-accepted bipartisan position (detailed above) that the Obama Administration should refuse to compromise with Iran until it capitulates fully with Congressional demands that far outstrip what can reasonably be expected to be achieved in negotiations?

Regardless, those making this argument include: Posey (R-FL), 10/8; Stockman (R-OH), 10/5; Turner (R-OH), 10/5; Lamborn (R-CO), 10/4; Messer (R-IN), 10/2; Coats (R-IN), 10/2; Gingrey (R-GA), 10/1; Walberg (R-MI), 10/1; Poe (R-TX), Cornyn (R-TX), 9/30; Barr (R-KY), 9/30; Kingston (R-GA), 9/30; Thompson (R-PA), 9/28; Poe (R-TX) 9/28; Culberson (R-TX), 9/28; Gohmert (R-TX), 9/28; LaMalfa (R-XX), 9/28; Foxx (R-CA), 9/28; Bachmann (R-MN), 9/27; and Poe (R-TX), 9/26.

Theme 2: "By shutting down the government, Republicans are helping Iran."

Many Democrats appeared to likewise be reading from shared Iran-shutdown talking points, this time to the effect that the shutdown undermines existing sanctions and endangers U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. This point is drawn, at least in part, from statements made by Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing (discussed in Section 3, below) and statements made by a Treasury Department spokesman, to the effect that, in fact, the shutdown IS hurting sanctions enforcement. Examples include: Reid (D-NV), 10/5; Durbin (D-IL), 10/4; Schumer (D-NY), 10/4; Sherman (D-CA) 10/4; Durbin (D-IL), 10/3 and Nadler (D-NY), 10/2.

Theme 3: "Stopping ObamaCare is Just Like Stopping Military Action in Syria"

This wasn't really a theme - just a bizarre argument offered by Cruz (R-TX) on 9/24 and Lee (R-UT) (and Cruz) on 9/24 (i.e., before the shutdown). They suggested a direct parallel between lawmakers preventing an Obama rush to military action against Syria and lawmakers acting now to block Obamacare by threatening to shut down the government. Cruz asserted, "I want to point out, for everyone who says defunding ObamaCare is impossible, they are the same voices who said stopping the attack on Syria was impossible--the exact same voices, graybeards--all of the media." Lee stated that, like the effort to prevent Syria military action, "the effort to stop ObamaCare might bear some resemblance to this. It might operate under a somewhat different timeframe. Initially, people said the effort to stop this law was one that was impossible. I think we are reaching the point at which it is being described by many as improbable. In time, as more and more Americans join this cause, as more and more Americans reach out to their Senators and their Congressmen, this effort will become absolutely unstoppable."

Theme 4: "The shutdown hurts U.S. standing on Iran and related issues"

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Nelson (D-FL) both offered some very cogent arguments about what the shutdown means more broadly for U.S. foreign policy and national security interests:

Menendez (D-NJ) 9/30: "What message do we send to the world when, in fact, we cannot get our own budget done and one party is willing to hold the Nation hostage in order to get their political views pursued? We are trying to convince Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons. We tell Iran if you disarm totally and stop your nuclear weapons program, then sanctions to you can be lifted. I believe the Iranians are looking and saying 'is it possible that such an agreement could ever be delivered by the Congress of the United States, if we do actually disarm, if we end all of our nuclear weapons program, if we do everything that the Security Council has asked of us. Would the United States lift the series of sanctions that they have ultimately passed upon us?' This Congress cannot agree with the President. When I say this Congress, I speak of the Republican Congress and the House of Representatives. It is a dangerous message in the world. We tell other nations that we believe they have to abide by certain disciplines, and yet we cannot ultimately keep our own budget open and the Nation and this government functioning."

Nelson (D-FL) 9/23: "We suddenly have in the international arena a whole bunch of new things that might be optimistic signs. If the Russians follow through and if President Assad does in fact open--and those are two big 'ifs' but at least it has happened thus far in the first week--if Assad does in fact open his chemical weapons, then there is the possibility that not only would the ability to disperse chemical weapons in Syria have been eliminated but those entire weapons would have been eliminated. That is a pretty good first step. We are also hearing the new President of Iran--as a result of an election in Iran--start to sing a new tune and have more of an outreach to the West. Should we be skeptical? Of course. I talked to the new Foreign Minister of Iran, who was a former Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, last Friday. I talked to him about what a gesture of good will it would be if they could find the missing retired FBI agent who disappeared 6 1/2 years ago, Bob Levinson, from the tourist island of Kish off the Iranian coast--if they could find him and return him to his wife and seven children after having been gone for 6 1/2 years. We have had proof of life twice--one with a video and the second time was 2 years ago in a photo. What a gesture of good will it would be if they were sincere about having a new relationship with the West. So if intrigues are real and they happen, would we want to undermine so much of that--to put it in the words of a Republican adviser of the Treasury to President George H. W. Bush--that a potential default is far more than a domestic consideration, it is a matter of foreign policy. Would we want to weaken the U.S. Government as it negotiates over these critical matters? I will conclude by saying there is some movement and discussions underway about a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians with security safeguards for both. Again, if there is any reality to these new messages that are flowing around and which our Secretary of State and our former colleague John Kerry is trying desperately to bring about--just think of what that does to improve the world situation, of which the enormous beneficiary is the United States of America. Yet would we be threatening again, pulling the economic underpinnings out from all of our negotiators on these three main negotiated topics that are now in front of us that affect the national security so desperately of the United States and the security of our allies? I don't think so. That is why I think there are a bunch of folks over here who have tried to get the Members in the House of Representatives to come to their senses. We have seen this brinkmanship before. I hope cooler and more rational heads will prevail."

4. Congressional Reaction/Concern Over Syria Deal

On 9/17, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin (D-MI) delivered a strong statement defending the Obama Administration's diplomacy to end the crisis of Syria's chemical weapons, in part responding to criticism lodged by his House colleague, Rogers (R-MI), that the U.S. was being "led by the nose" by Putin.

Rogers wasn't the only source of such criticism inside Congress. Some examples include:

Cornyn (R-TX) 9/13: Sent a letter to Secretary Kerry urging that negotiations over Syria's chemical weapons also include Syria's biological weapons (letter here).

Corker (R-TN) 9/14: On Syria agreement, "Absent the threat of force, it's unclear to me how Syrian compliance will be possible under the terms of any agreement. I'm still reviewing the details and believe Syria's willingness to follow through is very much an open question, but I remain supportive of a strong diplomatic solution to Syria's use of chemical weapons..."

McCain (R-AZ) and Graham (SC) 9/14: Statement on U.S.-Russian Agreement on Syria - "What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement - they see it as an act of provocative weakness on America's part. We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon."

Barrasso (R-WY) 9/16: Wall Street Journal oped - "Why the Russians Can't Be Trusted in Syria"

McCain (R-AZ) 9/17: Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Syria deal, "...many of us are concerned that both our friends and enemies will see this agreement as an act of provocative weakness - a blow to America's credibility that will lead others to question whether we are willing and able to enforce our own stated commitments, even after the gravest transgressions. I cannot imagine a worse message to send to the rulers of Iran, or the young leader in North Korea, or every other bad actor that is looking for an excuse to test the limits of American resolve."

Corker (R-TN) 9/27: In response to UN resolution on Syria - "While we all want a verifiable diplomatic solution to Syria's chemical weapons, the lack of enforcement measures makes me highly skeptical of Russia's willingness to impose real consequences on Syria for non-compliance. As Syria is given a chance to fulfill its obligations, it's important that we reinforce our broader national interests for stability in Syria and reassure our allies of U.S. resolve to counter other threats, especially from Iran."

McCain (R-AZ) 10/3: Statement on the Syria crisis, concluding: "So here is what we should take away from all this recent reporting: Despite the recent agreement on chemical weapons, that agreement does nothing to address the underlying conflict in Syria, which not only continues but is getting worse and worse. So, my friends, as the administration trumpets this deal of chemical weapons, the fact is that the slaughter goes on. It is clear to these people whom I have spoken with personally, tragically their morale is badly damaged. They believe they have been abandoned. The ongoing tragedy and massacre continues in Syria. The United States will pay a very heavy price in the future unless we do something rather dramatic."

McCain (R-AZ) and Graham (R-SC) 10/7: "...Today, Secretary Kerry praised Syria's compliance with the United Nations Security Council's resolution calling for the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria as a 'good beginning.' We disagree..."

Further reading:
National Journal 9/22: Threats to Syrian Christians Heighten Concerns in Congress About Aiding Rebels

5. Hearings

10/3: Hearing in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations entitled, "Reversing Iran's Nuclear Program." Witnesses were: Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (testimony; video); James Jeffrey, WINEP (testimony), David Albright, ISIS (testimony), and Ray Takeyh, CFR (testimony). Video of the hearing is available here. Corker (R-TN) press release here. Rubio (R-FL) exchange with Sherman here and opening statement here. Kirk (R-IL) statement rejecting the Administration's position (articulated by Sherman) that now is not the time for new sanctions) is here; similar statement rejected that poison from Congressman Royce (R-CA) is here. NIAC's report from the hearing can be found here. Examples of media coverage: Al-Monitor, CNN, The Hill, LA Times, USA Today, HuffPo, and YNet.

10/3: The Senate Armed Services Committee received a closed briefing on the situation in Syria. Briefers were Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, JCS Vice Chair Admiral James Winnefeld, Jr., and JCS Director for Intelligence Rear Admiral Paul Becker.

10/1: House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, was scheduled to hold a hearing entitled "Human Rights Abuses in Egypt." Witnesses: Morad Abou-Sabe (Rutgers University), Bishop Angaelos (Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK) and Samuel Tadros (Hudson Institute). POSTPONED.

9/26: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the nominations of Rose Gottemoeller, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (Testimony); Frank Rose, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance (Testimony) and Adam Scheinman, to be Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, with the Rank of Ambassador (Testimony). Menendez (D-NJ) opening statement here. Senate RSC questions for Gottemoeller here.

9/24: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Keith Harper, to be the Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council (and two other nominations). Harper's testimony can be found here. He notes: "I will forcefully defend our ally Israel from the unhelpful and disproportionate attention it too often receives and work to ensure our goals and national interests are not derailed by those who seek to deflect attention from their own records by turning attention to others..."

9/19: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Ann Patterson, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Patterson's testimony can be found here. Chairman Menendez's (D-NJ) opening statement is here.

9/19: The House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled "Examining the Syrian Refugee Crisis." Witness were Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (statement) and Nancy Lindborg, Assistant USAID Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (statement). Video of the hearing is available here. Subcommittee Chair Ros-Lehtinen's (R-FL) press release on the hearing is here.

9/18: The Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled, "Understanding the Threat to the Homeland from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)." Witnesses were: Frank Cilluffo (Associate Vice President & Director, Homeland Security Policy Institute, George Washington University - statement); Katherine Zimmerman (Senior Analyst, American Enterprise Institute - statement); and Brian Katulis (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress - statement).

9/17: The Senate Foreign Services Committee held a Top Secret/closed meeting to be updated by Secretary of State Kerry on the situation in Syria.

6. Members on the Record (in general)

Isakson (R-GA) 10/7: Arguing that the U.S. should follow Israel's example and switch to a biannual appropriations process.
Rogers (R-MI) 10/4: Calls UN's Selection of Iran to Serve on Disarmament Committee "Outrageous"
McCollum (D-MN) 10/4: Expressing concern about the human rights situation in Morocco.
Menendez (D-NJ) 9/30: Statement after senators' meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, noting "senators spoke with a unity of purpose, hopeful for a diplomatic outcome with Iran that leads to a verifiable termination of its pursuit of nuclear weapons program, but resolute that U.S. national security objectives can never be compromised."
Moran (D-VA) 9/28: Opposing the government shutdown, including because, "A shutdown cuts foreign military financing to Israel, a vital partner and ally that depends upon $3.1 billion being provided at the beginning of the fiscal year; and, thus, it undermines our national security in an ever-changing and unstable region by degrading Israel's ability to maintain a qualitative military advantage. These cuts will also have a direct impact on the industrial base throughout the United States, costing countless jobs that are funded through Israel's purchase of goods and services."
Poe (R-TX) 9/27: On 9/1 attack on Camp Ashraf
Gohmert (R-TX) and Bachmann (R-MN) 9/26: Full-out attack on the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Issa (R-CA) 9/26: Following Mideast trip, statement arguing that, "For our allies in the region--for Jordan, for Lebanon, for Egypt, and for Israel --we must develop a consistent policy where our enemies fear us and our allies respect and count on us always. We don't have that today. I would call on all my colleagues to become more familiar with the Arab Spring and see the sulfur that comes up and is often mixed and misunderstood for drinking water."
Pitts (R-PA) 9/26: Calling on the Senate to pass the House Republicans' CR, arguing: "At a time when fighting continues in Afghanistan and we face serious threats from terrorists, at a time when the President is threatening force in Syria, we cannot let our guard down. We should not use our military and wounded warriors as pawns in political partisanship."
Poe (R-TX) 9/25: Condemning the Obama Administration for signing the UN Arms Treaty and arguing, among other things, that "The language is vague so that the treaty could be interpreted to restrict the ability of the United States to help its allies, like Israel."
Kelly (R-PA) 9/25: Condemning the Obama Administration for signing the UN Arms Treaty, noting, "We have made strategic, moral, and legal commitments to provide arms to key allies such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel."
Gillibrand (D-NY) and Barrasso (R-WY) 9/24: Letter to Kerry urging the U.S. to "Fight UN Human Rights Council's Anti-Israel Agenda" and to "Challenge UN's Blatant Discrimination Against Israel, Work With International Community to Repeal Council's 'Agenda Item 7'"
Gohmert (R-TX) 9/20: Rambling rant reiterating (among other things) the accusation that the Obama Administration has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, declaring emphatically that what happened in Egypt earlier this year was "not a coup," and accusing CAIR of being Muslim Brotherhood front working in collusion with some in the U.S. government.
Granger (R-TX) 9/20: Explaining potential impact of failing to pass a continuing resolution: "Failure to get a CR enacted would impact key posts, including Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This would mean dramatically reduced influence in key regions like the Middle East and Asia. Military assistance to our allies, such as Israel, could be affected if payments are not made as planned, potentially jeopardizing the readiness of our partners. This could also impact the U.S. jobs of the men and women producing American-made equipment."
Inhofe (R-OK) 9/18: On Syria and Iran: "My major concern--the Presiding Officer may have heard I was making quite an issue out of the fact the President wanted to send cruise missiles into Syria. I don't think there is anyone naive enough to believe you can do that and not have repercussions. We have heard from Iran, which I consider to be the greatest threat to the United States, in that our intelligence has told us since 2007 Iran would have the nuclear weapon and the delivery system in place by 2015. That is a year and a half from now. Yes, it is something where we would be going in."
Kirk (R-IL) 9/18: Senator Kirk Welcomes Iran's Release of Nasrin Sotoudeh; Calls for further pressure on regime to release remaining political prisoners
Poe (R-TX) 9/17: Simultaneously criticizing (and linking) the Obama Administration's Syria policy and its gun policy in the U.S. (where he accuses the Administration of going "out of its way to keep Americans from possessing firearms.")
Collins (R-ME) 9/17: Oped laying out reasons for opposing Syria AUMF
Portman (R-OH) 9/16: Letter to Kerry Urging State Department to Reaffirm Commitment to Protecting Religious Freedom around the World (letter here).

7. From the Press

Egypt Aid
USA Today 10/9: White House denies rumors of cutting Egypt aid
CNN 10/9: U.S. to cut some military aid to Egypt after coup, turmoil
Reuters 10/9: U.S. seen withholding most military aid from Egypt: source
Washington Post 10/8: U.S. plans to curb military aid to Egypt
HuffPo 10/8: U.S. To Scale Back Aid To Egypt: Reports [round-up of reports]

Israel Aid & the Shutdown
YNet 10/5: Kerry: Shutdown to delay Israel security aid
Globes (Israel) 10/3: Shutdown hits US aid to Israel
JTA 10/3: Obama administration: Shutdown will affect military aid to Israel
Reuters 10/2: U.S. State Dept says shutdown could hit military funding for Israel

Union Leader 9/17: Ayotte [R-NH] tours Queen City firm quietly working on missile defense, Blade Runner's sockets ["...Just recently, the company won a contract with Israel to make the material for randomes, a missile's equivalent of a windshield, winning it over much larger companies including Raytheon. The contract is part of David's Sling, an Israel Defense Forces military system being jointly developed by the Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Raytheon, designed to intercept medium- to long-range missiles.]