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Chatter Regarding Iran in Congress

Uncategorized Comments (8)

Source: Julia Murray/NIAC

Washington DC – “[Iran] is not ten feet tall. It often substitutes assertiveness and self-aggrandizing pronouncements for enduring power, promoting the illusion of Iran as a real counterweight to the United States,” said Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns at today’s hearings on US foreign policy on Iran at the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees.

Burns explained that it is the “purpose of our (US) policy to change the behavior of the Iranian regime.” In order to do this, he emphasized that America will continue to use a dual-track strategy “employed in concert with our P5+1 partners – the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China – to put before the Iranian leadership a clear choice.” On one hand, robust incentives are offered to Iran to encourage cooperation with the rest of the world. On the other hand, the international community promises stringent sanctions on Iran if it does not decide to change course.

Burns reinforced the notion that US policy on Iran needs to be conducted through a multilateral framework, a point on which members of the committee unanimously agreed with him. Several said that they did not want a repeat of the Iraq war, where the US did not have world support; Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) said “we should not make that mistake again.”

Biden also took the opportunity to criticize pending sanctions legislation on Iran. He labeled the Iran Sanctions Act (S. 3227), sponsored by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), “absolutely incomprehensible.” The bill would greatly expand the scope of current sanctions to include any business organization or nongovernmental organization that invests more than $20 million in Iran.
In Biden’s view, the US should improve its ability to engage Iran’s civil society. Broad sanctions such as the Iran Sanctions Act would isolate Iran to the detriment of both nations and would be “incredibly self-defeating” for the United States.

In the House, the Foreign Affairs Committee took special note of the recent controversy over H.Con.Res 362.

That legislation has been particularly controversial because it contains language that points to the implementation of a naval blockade on Iran. Many prominent academics and officials have interpreted the bill’s language in this way; most recently Prof. Cyrus Bina and Col. Sam Gardner published an op-ed in the Washington Times arguing that passing the bill would invite war with Iran.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) commented that she thought the House resolution “sends the wrong messages,” and although she does not “read it explicitly as a declaration of war or a blockade…the unintended consequence…would be a blockade.”

Congressman Gary Ackerman’s (D-NY) opening statement strongly opposed this view, however. The bill’s original author, he argued that to infer a blockade from the bill’s provisions was “simply out of the question.” He was supported by his coauthor, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), who said that “no-one wants to open up another war in the Middle East.”

Throughout both the Senate and House hearings, Burns persistently repeated that the Bush Administration is “fully committed to diplomacy for resolving the conflict with Iran.” This assurance that diplomacy must be exhausted before any other course of action is taken was echoed by various members of Congress. For instance, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) said that the government must “reject those who believe talking is tantamount to surrender,” and engage Iran diplomatically.

Special attention was also paid to recent developments in Europe regarding the Iran issue, such as the EU’s decision to freeze the assets of Iran’s largest bank, Bank Melli. The EU’s 27 member-states also adopted sanctions on 38 Iranian individuals and entities. Burns saw this as positive and a sign of a world united “on the necessity for Iran to…reestablish international confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.”

He also spoke of US cooperation with China and Russia and commented that all sides are still committed to “suspension for suspension” negotiations: the suspension of UN Security Council resolutions for the suspension of Iran’s enrichment program.

Observers noted that there seemed to be a call for stronger sanctions within the House and Senate Committees, with members such as Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) arguing that current “sanctions simply have not generated much success.”

The House Committee also noted with optimism recent news that the Bush Administration is considering the introduction of a US interests section in Iran.

Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-CA) endorsed the idea as benefitting inter-personal exchange programs between the US and Iran. “It is widely held that the best cure for anti-Americanism in the world is America itself, therefore a US interests section in Iran is an opportunity to directly improve US-Iran relations on a person-to-person basis,” she said.

In his remarks Biden also encouraged the use of “country-to-country” diplomacy, as has been used in North Korea. He said that “the EU, Russia and China have told me personally that this is something they would welcome.”

Irancove @ July 10, 2008

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