On Thursday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH 10th) analyzed two piece of legislation before Congress this week and concluded that "Congress is setting the stage for war with Iran." -- But Jim Lobe saw signs of "disarray" in AIPAC after "a key co-sponsor of the resolution emphatically denied that the measure was intended to authorize the use of military force and asserted that Tehran would have to test a warhead before it could be considered 'nuclear weapons capable'" (a key term in the legislation). -- "The Congressional debate comes less than a week before Iran is scheduled to meet in Baghdad with the United States and the other members of the so-called 'P5+1' countries -- Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany -- for a second round of talks on the future of its nuclear program," Lobe said. -- "Both sides were upbeat coming out of the first round of talks in Istanbul last month. And subsequent contacts, notably between the deputy Iranian negotiator, Ali Bagheri, and his counterpart from the European Union, Helga Schmid, have reportedly encouraged all parties that some important confidence-building measures could be agreed, at least in principle, in Baghdad." -- "Moreover, the defeat of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose government reportedly was the most antagonistic toward Iran of the P5+1, in this month's elections and his replacement with François Hollande, who immediately sent former prime minister Michel Rocard to Tehran, has bolstered hopes that progress can be made when negotiations resume May 23." ...
NDAA AUTHORIZES WAR AGAINST IRAN
By Rep. Dennis Kucinich
May 17, 2012
This week, Congress is considering two pieces of legislation relating to Iran. The first undermines a diplomatic solution with Iran and lowers the bar for war. The second authorizes a war of choice against Iran and begins military preparations for it.
H.RES. 568: ELIMINATING THE MOST VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO WAR
The House is expected to vote on H.Res. 568. Read th e resolution. Section (6) rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Section (7) urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to Iranian enrichment.
This language represents a significant shift in U.S. policy and would guarantee that talks with Iran, currently scheduled for May 23, would fail. Current U.S. policy is that Iran cannot acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, H.Res. 568 draws the "redline" for military action at Iran achieving a nuclear weapons "capability," a nebulous and undefined term that could include a civilian nuclear program. Indeed, it is likely that a negotiated deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and to prevent war would provide for Iranian enrichment for peaceful purposes under the framework of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty with strict safeguards and inspections. This language makes such a negotiated solution impossible.
At the same time, the language lowers the threshold for attacking Iran. Countries with nuclear weapons "capability" could include many other countries like Japan or Brazil. It is an unrealistic threshold.
The Former Chief of Staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated that this resolution "reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war."
H.R. 4310: AUTHORIZING WAR AGAINST IRAN AND PREPARING THE MILITARY FOR IT
While H.Res. 568 undermines our diplomatic efforts and lowers the bar for war, H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, begins military preparations for war. Section 1221 makes military action against Iran a U.S. policy. Section 1222 directs our armed forces to prepare for war.
"SEC. 1221. DECLARATION OF POLICY.
"(a) Findings -- Congress makes the following findings:
"(2) At the same time, Iran may soon attain a nuclear weapons capability, a development that would threaten United States interests, destabilize the region, encourage regional nuclear proliferation, further empower and embolden Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provide it the tools to threaten its neighbors, including Israel."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as U.S. and Israeli intelligence, have all agreed that Iran does not currently have a nuclear bomb, is not building a nuclear weapon, and does not have plans to do so. Both U.S. and Israeli officials also agree that a strike on Iran would only delay their nuclear program and actually encourage them to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Sustained, diplomatic engagement with Iran is the only way to ensure transparency and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Rejecting or thwarting any inspections-based deal we are currently seeking with Iran, even when analysts are expressing guarded optimism that a near term deal is achievable, makes pre-emptive military action against Iran more likely.
"(7) In order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the United States, in cooperation with its allies, must utilize all elements of national power including diplomacy, robust economic sanctions, and credible, visible preparations for a military option."
Pursuing these non-diplomatic options, contrary to popular myth, does not help negotiations. U.S. policy toward Iran for the last three decades has primarily taken the form of economic sanctions, threats, and isolation. None of these things has created meaningful change in the behavior of the Iranian government or achieved the transparency we seek. In fact, history has demonstrated that sanctions often preclude war; they do not prevent it. Sanctions hurt the same ordinary Iranians that we claim to support, and undermine their efforts to encourage democratic change in their country. Threatening military action against Iran can only undermine sensitive and critical diplomatic negotiations that could be our last chance to achieve the transparency and cooperation we seek from the Iranian government.
"(8) Nevertheless, to date, diplomatic overtures, sanctions, and other non-kinetic actions toward Iran have not caused the Government of Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program."
The United States, IAEA and Israel have all publically recognized that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. In a January 2012 interview on CBS' "Face the Nation," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated unequivocally that Iran is not trying to build a nuclear weapon. This clause further ignores that the U.S. and Iran have barely engaged in direct negotiations. Prior to last month's negotiations, the U.S. and Iran had only engaged in 45 minutes of direct talks since 2009.
"(b) Declaration of Policy -- It shall be the policy of the United States to take all necessary measures, including military action if required, to prevent Iran from threatening the United States, its allies, or Iran's neighbors with a nuclear weapon."
This is an authorization for the use of military force against Iran. It ignores the warnings of both current and former U.S. top military brass who have spoken in opposition to the use of military force against Iran, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. A February 2012 poll demonstrated that less than 20% of the Israeli public supports an Israeli strike on Iran if approved by the United States. Congress must avoid the same mistakes it made in the Iraq war and reject any language that can be construed as authorizing war against Iran.
"SEC. 1222. UNITED STATES MILITARY PREPAREDNESS IN THE MIDDLE EAST.
"Section 2 (A) pre-positioning sufficient supplies of aircraft, munitions, fuel, and other materials for both air- and sea-based missions at key forward locations in the Middle East and Indian Ocean;
"(B) maintaining sufficient naval assets in the region necessary to signal United States resolve and to bolster United States capabilities to launch a sustained sea and air campaign against a range of Iranian nuclear and military targets, to protect seaborne shipping, and to deny Iranian retaliation against United States interests in the region; . . .
"(D) conducting naval fleet exercises similar to the United States Fifth Fleet's major exercise in the region in March 2007 to demonstrate ability to keep the Strait of Hormuz open and to counter the use of anti-ship missiles and swarming high-speed boats."
A plain reading of these provisions in H.R. 4310 taken together with H.R. 568 makes it clear: Congress is setting the stage for war with Iran.
U.S. IRAN HAWKS IN CONGRESS IN SOME DISARRAY
By Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service
May 17, 2012
WASHINGTON -- Hopes by Iran hawks here to get the U.S. Congress to wield the threat of a U.S. military attack on the Islamic Republic on the eve of next week's critical negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program appear to have fallen unexpectedly short.
While the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject "any U.S. policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran," a key co-sponsor of the resolution emphatically denied that the measure was intended to authorize the use of military force and asserted that Tehran would have to test a warhead before it could be considered "nuclear weapons capable."
At the same time, the House leadership was poised to accept an amendment to the otherwise hawkish 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that declares explicitly "that nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran." The NDAA, as amended, is expected to clear the House Friday.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Capitol Hill, a tough new sanctions bill that was supposed to sail through the Senate Thursday was blocked by some Republicans who said it was insufficiently hawkish.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, one of several influential Republicans who have long urged Washington to prepare for war with Iran, angrily denounced the absence of any reference to possible U.S. military action if Iran fails to abandon its nuclear program.
"These sanctions are great. I hope they will change Iranian behavior. They haven't yet, and I don't think they ever will," he declared. "I want more on the table."
The Congressional debate comes less than a week before Iran is scheduled to meet in Baghdad with the United States and the other members of the so-called "P5+1" countries -- Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany -- for a second round of talks on the future of its nuclear program.
Both sides were upbeat coming out of the first round of talks in Istanbul last month. And subsequent contacts, notably between the deputy Iranian negotiator, Ali Bagheri, and his counterpart from the European Union, Helga Schmid, have reportedly encouraged all parties that some important confidence-building measures could be agreed, at least in principle, in Baghdad.
Moreover, the defeat of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose government reportedly was the most antagonistic toward Iran of the P5+1, in this month's elections and his replacement with François Hollande, who immediately sent former prime minister Michel Rocard to Tehran, has bolstered hopes that progress can be made when negotiations resume May 23.
Specifically, U.S. diplomats hope that Iran will agree to some portion of a "menu" of steps it can take to build confidence, the most ambitious of which would be to freeze its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and ship out its existing stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium in return for fuel rods that can be used for its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).
Washington also hopes Tehran would agree to suspend operations or close its Fordow enrichment facility which is buried under a mountain near Qom, and ratify the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That would permit much more-intrusive monitoring by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Iran's nuclear facilities or other facilities, such as the Parchim military base, where some Western intelligence agencies suspect nuclear-related work may be taking place.
Among the range of carrots that may be offered are formal recognition that Iran has the right to continue uranium enrichment up to five percent; a cap or delay on any further sanctions -- some of which the E.U. is scheduled to impose next month -- on its increasingly distressed economy; and the easing or eventual lifting of some sanctions.
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has repeatedly threatened to unilaterally attack Iran's nuclear facilities, has long expressed strong reservations about any negotiations with Tehran that would permit it to continue any enrichment.
In an interview with CNN Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is meeting with top officials here this week, said any deal must require Tehran to "stop enriching uranium, to 20 percent, or even three to five percent, and to take all the enriched uranium out of the country." Virtually all Iran experts here, however, believe that Tehran will never agree to stop all enrichment.
Nonetheless, Israel enjoys considerable influence in Washington through powerful lobby groups, most importantly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which appears to have pushed hard for Congress to take up the pending legislation this week in advance of the Baghdad talks.
Over the past six years, AIPAC has played a central role in pushing lawmakers to increase military aid to Israel, impose ever-tougher sanctions against Iran, and, most recently, wield the threat of U.S. military action.
The latter was precisely the original intent of the House resolution approved by a margin of 401-11 Thursday. Not only did the resolution reject any future containment policy toward a "nuclear weapons-capable Iran; but it also declared it a "vital national interest" -- code for justifying military action -- "to prevent the Government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability."
Such a stance is distinctly more hawkish than that of the Obama administration which has made a distinction between nuclear weapons capability -- a status which many experts believe Iran has already attained -- and actual possession of a nuclear weapon.
Unlike the Israeli government, the Obama administration has indicated that it will consider military action only if Iran actually develops a bomb, a much higher threshold than a "capability."
In any event, the resolution approved Thursday failed to define "capability," leaving it to its chief Democratic co-sponsor and the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, to fill the gap, which, to the surprise of many close observers, he did in a way that actually raised the threshold for military action higher than the administration's.
"Nuclear weapons capability? (It takes) three elements defined by the Director of National Intelligence: fissile material production, one; design weaponization and testing of a warhead, two; and a delivery vehicle," he said, speaking from prepared notes during debate on the measure Tuesday. "To be nuclear capable, you have to master all three elements."
"While Iran has a delivery system, they have not yet mastered -- but they are making progress on -- steps one and two. And if one day, when they master all the elements, and they kick out the inspectors, and they shut off the (IAEA's) cameras, I consider them nuclear capable," he said after repeatedly denying that the measure was meant to authorize military action.
Calls and emails regarding AIPAC's reaction to Berman's remarks were not returned, although the organization "applaud(ed)" the resolution's approval in a release.
Meanwhile, Iran hawks suffered a second setback when the managers of the NDAA bill accepted a bipartisan amendment stating explicitly that nothing in the bill "shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran."
The entire bill, which, among other things, includes provisions calling for stepped-up military operations and planning in the Gulf area, will be up for a final vote Friday after a number of amendments, including one calling for the appointment of a special envoy for Iran, are considered.
At the same time, another major sanctions bill that would punish foreign companies that provide Iran with communications or riot-control technology that could be used to suppress dissent and that urged new sanctions against foreign insurance companies active in Iran, extend existing sanctions to all Iranian banks, among other measures, was at least temporarily derailed by Graham and other Republicans who wanted to include language alluding to the possible use of military force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons.
The Democratic majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, had agreed to incorporate a provision asserting that the bill could not be construed as a basis for military action at the insistence of Republican Sen. Rand Paul who had single-handedly stalled passage of the sanctions bill in March by insisting on the inclusion of such a provision.