APN Legislative Round-Up: Week Ending 4/18/13

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. SFRC Amends S. Res. 65
3. Hearings
4. Kerry on the Record, on the Hill

1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(IRAN "BACKDOOR TO WAR") S. Res. 65: Introduced 2/28 by Graham (R-SC) and having 83 cosponsors (as of this writing), "A resolution strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation." On 4/16, S. Res. 65 was marked up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and amended by unanimous consent (the substance of the amendment is discussed in Section 2 below), after which it was reported out of the SFRC. On 4/17 it was placed on the Senate Calendar and is expected to pass imminently. As noted in the 3/1 and 3/8 editions of the Round-Up, APN strongly objected to this resolution, for a number of reasons. APN's statement on S. Res. 65 (as introduced) is available here. Our detailed analysis on the substance/problems with S. Res. 65 is available here. Our Action Alert urging our supporters across the country to write to their Senators is here. Our statement following the amendment is availablehere.

2. SFRC Amends S. Res. 65

When S. Res. 65 was introduced, APN (and others) articulated strong objections to the measure (see above links), with particular concerns about a "resolved" clause that was tantamount to a "backdoor to war" with Iran. APN called on Senators to refuse to permit the resolution to be ramrodded through the Senate. APN called instead for a full deliberative process, including committee consideration during which problems in the resolution could be addressed through amendments.

The Amendment

On 4/16, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a mark-up to deal with S. Res. 65. During the mark-up, the committee adopted without objections an amendment to S. Res. 65 offered by Corker (R-TN). The amendment targeted the "resolved" clause that APN had highlighted in its objections to S. Res. 65:

Resolved clause 8, as introduced: "urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence."

Resolved clause 8, as amended: "urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self defense against Iran's nuclear weapons program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence."

This new formulation now clearly and significantly qualifies in several important ways what in the early language was unqualified support for Israeli military action against Iran:

· it refers to "legitimate" self-defense, making clear that the U.S. will judge what is and is not genuinely an act of self-defense.

· it explicitly narrows the scope of what would qualify as a legitimate act of self-defense to one taken against "Iran's nuclear weapons program" (a program that U.S. intelligence is not certain is active at this time), as opposed to any Iranian targets that Israel might choose.

· it makes clear that support for Israel in such a case must be in accordance with U.S. law, including constitutional requirements for Congressional authorization of use of force before committing the U.S. to any military action.

Why this is a Victory

The mere fact that this resolution was taken up in committee was a significant victory for those advocating for more responsible policymaking on Israel, Iran, and related issues. Standard operating procedure for a measure like S. Res. 65 is to gather cosponsors and then bring the measure straight to the floor and pass it without debate. That didn't happen here.

Moreover, the fact that in committee S. Res. 65 was amended to significantly alter the key operative clause of the resolution, narrowing the definition and scope of what the Senate says the U.S. should support if Israel takes military action against Iran - is a major victory for those pressing for responsible policy from Congress on this issue. With this amendment, the SFRC closed the backdoor - at least in this resolution - to war. While the resolution is still problematic, it is now far better, and far less dangerous, than it was in its original form.

AIPAC, for its part, issued a press release applauding the committee's passage of S. Res. 65 and treating the amendment as if it never happened at all - an approach that makes sense, given that the amendment was a serious defeat for AIPAC in this matter. Regrettably, much of the media appears to have reported the story based on the AIPAC press release, rather than examining what actually happened (leading to stories that make it appear that the SFRC simply rubber-stamped a pro-war resolution). For examples, see herehereherehere, and here. For reporting on what actually happened this week in the SFRC (as opposed to reporting based on AIPAC's press release alone), see: JTAThinkProgressOpen Zion

Political Implications, Immediate and Longer Term

Senator Corker (R-TN), who introduced the amendment, and Senator Menendez (D-NJ), who as chairman of the SFRC was instrumental in getting this language adopted, deserve credit for dealing seriously and substantively with the very reasonable objections APN and others raised. The fact that they did so appears to reflect the groundswell of concern about the "backdoor to war" implications of resolved clause #8 - concerns which dovetailed with concerns of many in the Senate over preserving and asserting the Senate's constitutional prerogatives with respect to foreign policy and war powers.

Finally, it must be recognized that S. Res. 65 is still problematic. Even as amended, it is still part and parcel of a broader effort to cut-off diplomatic options and build support for military action against Iran. It also still blatantly misrepresents US policy in terms of the Administration's red line on Iran (obtaining a nuclear weapon vs. obtaining nuclear weapons "capability"). For these reasons, APN remains opposed to this resolution. For a strong statement regarding the continued concerns about S. Res. 65 and this broader pro-war effort, see this week'sresponse to the SFRC mark-up from NIAC.

3. Hearings

Secretary of State Kerry was busy this week testifying before multiple Congressional committees about the Obama Administration's foreign policy priorities, its budget request, and its record.

(1) On 4/17, Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a hearing entitled, "Securing U.S. Interests Abroad: The FY 2014 Foreign Affairs Budget." Full video of the hearing is availablehere. Secretary Kerry's prepared remarks are available here. This hearing included a great deal about Israel-Palestine, Syria (starting at around 01:00 of part 1 of the hearing), Egypt, and Iran. Selected excerpts are included in Section 4, below (the full hearing is well worth watching). For press coverage, see: Think Progresshere, and here.

(2) On 4/17, Kerry testified before the House Appropriations Committee's State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. Full video of the hearing is available here. Secretary Kerry's prepared remarks are available here.

(3) On 4/18, Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a hearing entitled "National Security & Foreign Policy Priorities in the FY 2014 International Affairs Budget." Full video of the hearing is available here. Secretary Kerry's prepared remarks are available here. Media coverage of the hearing focused on Kerry's call for patience in the face of support in the committee for additional Iran sanctions - see here and here.

(4) On 4/18, Kerry testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee's State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

4/17: The Senate Armed Services committee received testimony on the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2014 and the Future Years Defense Program from Secretary of Defense Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed by a briefing on the situation in Syria. Full video of the hearing is availablehere. Hagel's statement to the committee on Syria is available here. Media coverage of the hearing: hereherehereherehere and here.

4. Kerry on the Record, On the Hill

As noted above, Kerry spent a lot time on the Hill this week testifying before various committees, in hearings that covered a lot of ground in the Middle East (among other things). His comments in the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding the lifespan of the two-state solution drew particular attention. Those comments, and others, are included below. Times given are from the two-part video of the hearing available online,here.

On the viability of the two-state solution: In response to comments/questions from Rep. Engel (D-NY), Kerry stated (starting at 01:02:37 in part 1 of the hearing):

...you can tell from my early travels and my engagements that we're committed to trying to find out what is possible. I am not gonna come here today and lay out to you a schedule or define the process, because we're in the process of working that out with the critical parties. But in my meetings, on both sides I have found the seriousness of purpose, a commitment to explore how we actually get to a negotiation.

And we all have some homework to do. We're doing that homework. And I ask you simply: give us a little bit of time here. But I can guarantee you that I am committed to this because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have some period of time, in the year to year and half to 2 years or, it's over. And everybody I've talked to in the region and all of the supporters, globally, who are carrying - care about the peace - and I've been struck in my travels, incidentally, by how many people, everywhere, raise this subject and want us to move forward on a peace effort. They're all worried about the timing here. So there's an urgency to this in my mind and I intend, on behalf of the President's instructions, to honor that urgency and see what we can do to move forward.

On challenges to the two-state solution: In response to comments/questions from Rep. Deutch (D-FL), Kerry stated (starting at 02:07:00 in part 1 of the hearing):

...finally, on the two-state solution, look: the hurdle we have to get over here, part of the difficulty, is that the level of mistrust on both sides is gigantic. President Abbas deep down is not convinced, and that may be a light word for it, that Prime Minister Netanyahu or Israel are ever going to give them a state. And on the other side, Israel's not convinced that the Palestinians and others are ever gonna give them the security that they need. So we have to find an equation here, folks, where we can try to dispel those years of mistrust and get both sides to understand that both things are, in fact, possible. And that's as far as I'm gonna go in terms of talking about the challenge here. But I think...that's the complication and we're trying to undo years of failure. And, and I think one can. I believe we can. But it's gotta go carefully, step by step.

On Salam Fayyad's resignation: In response to comments/questions from Schneider (D-IL), Kerry stated (starting at 00:00:00 of part 2 of the hearing):

First...I have enormous respect for Salam Fayyad. I've worked with him closely, had many, many meetings with him. I think a lot of people had confidence in his stewardship financially -- in his financial stewardship, the accountability transparency he brought. But...he's not going away completely. He's going to be there as a caretaker. I don't know how long that "caretakership" will take, but he will be there to work in a transition, number one. Number two, he will remain involved in Palestinian affairs, I am confident.

Number three, the peace process and the capacities of the Palestinians are, in the end, bigger than one person. They just are. And there are people who can continue this journey and I'm confident about it. I believe that there is a way for President Abbas to be persuaded of the good faith efforts that the Israelis are prepared to take, providing they take them, and I think there's a way to get to these negotiations. So, I'm not saying to you there's no pathway for peace. I'm saying here that he comes to the table with enormous mistrust as do the Israelis - who pulled out of Gaza and continued to get rockets on there and who pulled out of Lebanon... We all know the history here. We all know.

The art here is not to get trapped in the past and in who did what to whom. At some point, it's to take the place where we are today and be as constructive as possible to move it forward. I think that there is a way to avoid the unachievable preconditions. I believe there's a way to build a series of initiatives that can speak to this mistrust, but you have to do it quietly and you have to do it patiently, but you also have to do it rapidly at the same time, because of this timeframe.

You know, President Abbas has the power to go to the United Nations again - tomorrow. He has the power to ask to be a part of an agency or recognized now, given the recognition which was a vote of 100 and what - 120 something - 140 to 9. I think that it'd be difficult maybe to find those nine next time and people know that. You may find four or five but you won't find the nine....he is restraining from doing that. That is his sign of good faith at this moment, too. He would like to see if we could get this process moving. So, everybody needs to kind of not react - the normal sort of tit-for-tat, stereotypical way. Give peace a chance by providing some opening here for the politics and the diplomacy to work. That's what both sides need to do. That's what I believe both sides are prepared to do and the proof will be in the pudding.

On U.S. aid to the PA: In response to comments/questions from Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Kerry stated (starting at 01:10:36 of part 1 of the hearing):

...it seems to me that - for Israel, for us, for the world - that not strengthening the PA is to work against our own interests. Admiral Bushong there now is doing an extraordinary job following up on what General Dayton started a number of years ago to help build the security capacity in the West Bank. Last year, the entire year, not one Israeli was killed from an incident from the West Bank. So, we need to recognize, even as there are difficulties, a lot is happening. Their economy is actually growing at a relatively decent rate. There's a level of cooperation which is growing and capacity that's growing. So we want to continue that and I think to not invest would be remarkably shortsighted, particularly given where we are now. Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed in the last days to engage in a new initiative in terms of the economy, not as an alternative, not as a substitute - I want to emphasize this - to the political track, but in addition...

On funding for Israel & the sequester: In response to a question from Sires (D-NJ), Kerry stated (starting at 01:39:54 of part 1 of the hearing):

Israel got a plus-up in the budget, I think, to $3.1 billion total. But that is subject to sequester, as is everything. And we're not able to undo that. So there'll be a plus-up, but then there'll be a reduction from the plus-up. It's still a net plus-up, but there is a sequester that will apply to everything, including Jordan, Egypt, Israel. Sequester, folks, was not supposed to happen. That was the theory. And we're living with it. And so we have cuts that we don't want. And that's the absence of making the policy choice itself. So, yes, there will be cuts under sequester.

On Israel and the Visa Waiver Program: In response to a question from Grayson (D-FL), Kerry stated (exchange with Grayson begins at 02:50:22):

...you're not gonna have every country in the world being visa waivered [sic] for obvious reasons, but where people can meet the standards of requirement with respect to the rate of refusal - which is as the key standard - we're all for it. ...Yeah, [on the question of seeing strategic allies like Brazil, Israel, and Poland being included], but I'm not in favor of waiving standards to do it. I think we have to have people meet the standard and proceed from there... there are several established criteria in the Act with respect to the current standards for the visa waiver. One is that the government provides reciprocal visa waivers; two, that the government issues secure machine-readable passports; three, that the government certifies they have a program to incorporate biometric identification into their passports; four, that the government reports the thefts of blank passports; five, that they maintain the low immigrant refusal rate; and six, that they maintain less than two percent rejection for travel for non-immigrant applicants. So, those are the standards in the current law and you guys obviously have the right to change that, if you see fit, but that's the current standard and I'm not in favor of waiving that.