Friday, 1 February 2013

AIPAC's Annual Meeting Beats the Drums Of War With Iran

AIPAC's March 4-6 annual meeting in Washington, DC again provided congressional leaders and other Israel acolytes the opportunity to genuflect to the altar of Israel. As opposed to previous years, when the conference focus was on the Israel-Palestine issue, this year's emphasis was on Iran. In effect, the major theme seemed to be a call for war with Iran.

AIPAC's chosen congressional vehicles for this call were the identical S.Res. 380, introduced Feb. 16 by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and H.Res. 568, introduced March 1 by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Both measures barely mention the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the issue of Iran's nuclear program. Instead, they would give the "sense of Congress" that "containing" a nuclear Iran is not an option, and that it is in the vital national interest of the U.S. to prevent the Iranian government from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. They would "urge the president to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat."

Many observers have pointed out that this could be a call for war, because Iran already has a "nuclear-weapons capability." As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said in a March 9 column, "the truth is that every nation with sufficient wealth and scientific infrastructure has the capacity to build a bomb if it really wants to."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was slightly more nuanced. He said he would support a resolution saying that "if Iran at any time begins to enrich uranium at weapons-grade levels, or decides to go ahead with a nuclear weapons program, then the U.S. will use military force to end that program."

Under relentless AIPAC pressure, members of Congress flocked to sign on to the measures. Within a week, S.Res. 380 had 59 co-sponsors, and H.Res. 568 had 95.

Several other anti-Iran measures were introduced in Congress. The most significant was S. 2101, the "Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Human Rights" bill introduced Feb. 13 by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), with no co-sponsors. This is a slightly pared down version of S. 1048, introduced last May by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Senate companion to H.R. 1905, also introduced last May and passed by the House in December. (Neither S. 1048, which has 82 co-sponsors, nor H.R. 1905 has been brought to the floor of the Senate.)

Among S. 2101's many provisions is one that would direct the president to freeze the assets of a person who has transferred to Iran goods or services likely to be used to commit human rights abuses, and impose specified sanctions against persons and firms that have committed human rights abuses. The bill would also expand sanctions to cover companies involved in joint ventures that aid Iran's energy sector, target any Iranian joint ventures involving uranium mining, authorize the administration to target corporate executives of sanctioned firms, and require U.S. companies to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission business they have with any Iranian firms that could fall under sanctions.

Another provision, introduced as an amendment by Menendez, would go after Iran's participation in the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), the international clearing house for financial transactions used by all major financial institutions, including most Iranian banks and institutions. Menendez's amendment would impose sanctions on banks having officers on SWIFT's board if SWIFT fails to stop processing transactions for Iranian banks. The previously described H.R. 3880, introduced in February by Ros-Lehtinen, which also would sanction SWIFT member banks, has only four co-sponsors, including Ros-Lehtinen.

(SWIFT, based in Belgium, is subject to European Union laws, and on March 15 said that, effective March 17, it would discontinue its communications services to Iranian financial institutions to comply with EU sanctions on Iranian banks.)

On March 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would exempt Japan and 10 EU members countries from the sanctions enacted as part of the Defense Authorization Act passed in December 2011 that impose penalties for doing business with the Central Bank of Iran. As described in this magazine's previous issue, the law allows the president to exempt countries from the sanctions if the country "has significantly reduced the volume of its crude oil purchases from Iran," and Clinton said that these 11 countries had, indeed, significantly done so.

S. Res. 386 "calling for free and fair elections in Iran" was introduced by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) on March 1 and passed by the full Senate on March 5, with 67 co-sponsors. H.R. 4179 was introduced March 8 by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Ros-Lehtinen. It would "strengthen the multilateral sanctions regime with respect to Iran, expand sanctions relating to the energy sector of Iran, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by Iran, and human rights abuses in Iran." H.R. 4070, introduced Feb. 16 by Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY) with 14 co-sponsors, would "clarify" certain provisions relating to blocked Iranian assets in the U.S.

Of the previously described bills, H.R. 3783, introduced in January by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), was ordered reported to the full House by Ros-Lehtinen's House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 7, with 75 co-sponsors. It would proclaim that "it shall be U.S. policy to use all elements of national power to counter Iran's growing presence and hostile activity in the Western Hemisphere." This bill apparently is meant to replace the similar H.Res. 429, introduced by Duncan last October.

Also, H.R. 3843, introduced in January by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), to amend the Iran sanctions act of 2010 "to provide for the imposition of sanctions with respect to the National Iranian Oil Company and the National Iranian Tanker Company," still has no co-sponsors. Similarly, S. 2058, introduced in February by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), "to close loopholes, increase transparency, and improve the effectiveness of sanctions on Iranian trade in petroleum products," has gained just one co-sponsor, and now has 18, including Murkowski. More

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