APN Legislative Round-Up: Week Ending November 8, 2013

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Obama vs. "Pro-Israel" Groups over Iran Sanctions - Part II
3. Congress Moving on Iran Sanctions?
4. Hearings
5. Members on the Record
6. From the Press

Briefly noted:
Lara Friedman op-ed 11/8: Netanyahu, Decoded: The Only Good Iran Deal is No Deal
Peace Now/APN report 11/8: Bibi's Settlements Boom -- March-November 2013

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(IRAN) S. Res. Xxx: A resolution (not yet introduced) to be cosponsored by Risch (R-ID), Crapo (R-ID), Paul (R-TX) and Leahy (D-VT), calling for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini and all other individuals detained on account of their religious beliefs. Press release here.

2. Obama vs, "Pro-Israel" Groups over Iran Sanctions - Part II

Last week's Round-Up covered the "did they or didn't they" story of whether leaders of four major Jewish organizations promised President Obama to take a break in their lobbying for new Iran sanctions. That section ended with the prediction, "Stay tuned for more fun and games."

More fun and games is exactly what has been seen in the ensuing days. Rather than try to sum it all up in narrative, in this case, the headlines tell the story quite effectively.

WaPo 11/1 (Jennifer Rubin): No deal on sanctions freeze
Haaretz 11/2: Foxman confirms: Jewish groups to take 'time out' in Iran sanctions campaign
JTA 11/3: AIPAC says sanctions lobbying will not be delayed
Haaretz 11/3: AIPAC: We will continue to work for stronger sanctions against Iran
JTA 11/4: AIPAC, AJC won't suspend Iran sanctions lobbying; ADL willing
The Tower 11/4: Top Jewish Groups Recommit To Seeking New Iran Sanctions
Washington Free Beacon 11/4: White House Dividing Pro-Israel Leaders on Nuclear Iran (coming close to implying anti-Semitic manipulation by the White House, and in effective accusing the Israeli Haaretz newspaper of anti-Semitism)
Times of Israel & JTA 11/5: US Jewish groups divided over more Iran sanctions
The Forward 11/6: Jewish Groups Split on 60-Day 'Time Out' for Lobbying Over Iran Nukes

It is not clear at this point what the various groups are doing on the Hill, although there is evidence (see below) that pressure continues to be mounted in support of moving ahead with new sanctions.

3. Congress Moving on Iran Sanctions?

Early this week, smart money among Hill watchers was on Iran action moving to the National Defense Authorization bill, which could come to the Senate floor as early as next week. The NDAA is must-pass legislation and, as such, is a magnet for amendments on a range of related and unrelated issues. In recent days, speculation has been rife that Iran-related amendments will be offered on the floor, including an amendment to simply attach the Iran sanctions text that is currently sitting in the Banking Committee (circumventing a mark-up). One potential hitch to this strategy is that Senator Levin (D-MI), the chair of the Armed Services Committee (and thus the manager of the NDAA on the floor), has made clear that he opposes new Iran sanctions at this time.

In any case, by late this week, smart money shifted, after Senate Banking Committee Chairman Johnson (D-SD) announced plans to mark-up the Iran Sanctions bill in the near future (no date has been announced as of this writing). The move by Johnson to go ahead with the bill, after previously indicating a readiness to hold off on it, may reflect a recognition that only by doing so can he prevent an end-run, in the form of Iran sanctions amendments on the NDAA. For those concerned about Congress moving precipitously to pass potentially unwise or ill-timed sanctions, keeping the measure in the Banking Committee may offer some reassurance that the legislation will receive serious consideration in a formal mark-up and debate - something that would manifestly not be the case with an amendment to the NDAA. Moreover, this decision permits Chairman Johnson to retain control, somewhat, over the timing of action on the measure. Finally, while it remains possible/likely that Iran-related amendments will be offered to the NDAA, the fact that there is now an explicit commitment to hold a mark-up of the sanctions legislation in committee will make it harder for any senator to force the issue with the NDAA, and make it easier for Levin to argue that the issue should be left in the hands of the committee of jurisdiction.

In addition, in a somewhat bizarre development, on 11/6 Senator Corker (R-TN) announced plans to introduce legislation intended to directly obstruct negotiations with Iran. Specifically, Corker said he was drafting legislation to bar Obama from using any of the waivers/exceptions that are part of existing sanctions legislation unless Iran meets certain conditions (conditions unlikely to be satisfied in any interim agreement with Iran). Corker reportedly said he was considering offering the legislation as an amendment to either the NDAA or the Banking Committee sanctions bill.

Also, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing next week entitled, "Examining Nuclear Negotiations: Iran After Rouhani's First 100 Days." Details in section 4, below.

Looking Ahead

Thus far, discussion has focused on what Congress will do during the current "waiting period" - that is, the interim between the start of the new Iran negotiating effort and the time when we know for certain whether it has succeeded in either achieving a deal or unmasking Iran as not serious about getting to a deal. Interestingly, so far there has been little/no discussion about what Congress will do if or when a deal is announced - possibly because there is an underlying assumption among skeptics that such a moment simply will never come.

Regardless, the reality is that arguments in Congress for increasing sanctions as a means to pressure Iran to come to an agreement would seemingly lose some (or even all) relevance at the point when the U.S. and international community come together with Iran and announce that a deal has been struck. With increasing signs of (potentially) an imminent announcement from Geneva of some such deal, the big question is: Will support/demands for new Iran sanctions lessen? Or will there be a new Iran offensive in Congress, this time aiming to scuttle the deal?

In this context, the all-out offensive against an Iran agreement that has been launched by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is of particular note. Netanyahu has a history of strong support from members of Congress, and from both sides of the aisle. In this context, and if there is a deal in Geneva, it will be interesting in the coming days and weeks to see if Netanyahu openly launches an effort to get Congress to un-do what he could not stop Kerry and Obama from doing in the first place. Given that an Iran deal would be a huge foreign policy victory for Obama, such a strategy has the potential to spark an ugly partisan battle, further politicizing the issue of what it means to be "pro-Israel" in Washington.

Already, there are some hints that of this dynamic taking hold, both with the Corker announcement (above) and with an 11/8 statement from House Leader Cantor (R-VA), which appear to echo Netanyahu's talking points, stating (among other things), "Any agreement that does not require the full and complete halting of the Iranian nuclear program is worse than no deal at all." Likewise, on 11/8, Rep. McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement preemptively denouncing a deal, noting, "...the Obama Administration appears to be entertaining a deal that snatches defeat from the jaws of victory... Relieving sanctions without a guarantee that Iran will end its nuclear program is foolish..." (statement not posted online as of this writing).

4. Hearings

11/13: A hearing is scheduled in the House Foreign Affairs committee entitled, "Examining Nuclear Negotiations: Iran After Rouhani's First 100 Days." Scheduled witnesses (so far) are: Mark Wallace (United Against Nuclear Iran), Mark Dubowitz (Foundation for Defense of Democracies), and Colin Kahl (The Center for a New American Security).

5. Members on the Record

Cruz (R-TX) 11/7: "President Obama is in unique position to focus international attention on detention of Pastor Abedini"
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 11/7: Sanctions Relief in Exchange for False Hope and Empty Promises from Iran Would be a Significant Error in Judgment
Wolf (R-VA) 11/6: Troubling Developments In Plight Of Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini
Labrador (R-ID) 11/5: Labrador Reacts To Latest Developments with Pastor Saeed & Iran
Forbes (R-VA) 11/5: Urging Obama to Intervene on Behalf of American Pastor Imprisoned in Iran
Cruz (R-TX) 11/5: on Saeed Abedini's Transfer to Prison in Karaj
Hartzler (R-MO) 11/4: Statement on the transfer of Iranian-American Pastor Saeed to a more dangerous prison in Iran
Rubio (R-FL) 11/3: Politico op-ed - "Pressure Iran with tighter sanctions"
Schneider (D-IL) 11/1: Statement on Obama Administration Seeking Delay in Further Iranian Sanctions
Paul (R-TX) 11/1: Calling for the Release of Pastor Abedini
Senator Levin (D-MI) 11/1: Senator Levin Backs Delay on Iran Sanctions Bill (in CFR comments)

6. From the Press

NYT 11/8: U.S. Loses Voting Rights at Unesco
Haaretz 11/8: U.S., Israel lose UNESCO voting right in dispute over Palestinians
Al Ahram 11/7: US congress delegation against cutting Egypt aid: Report
Egypt Independent 11/6: Congress to make intensive visits to Cairo: Foreign Ministry
CNN 11/6: As Iran and U.S. negotiate, Senator Menendez blasts unilateral sanctions relief
The Hill 11/5: Pause on additional Iran sanctions crucial to negotiations (op-ed by Alireza Nader)
NYT 11/3 (editorial): Congress Can Help on Iran