On Wednesday, the House debated and passed overwhelmingly HR 850, the Iran Nuclear Prevention Act of 2013. As we wrote on the eve of the vote, these new sanctions are timed to disrupt the inauguration of Iran’s new president, a moderate, and to severely restrict Iranian oil exports. Those who have gone along with increasingly restrictive limitations on oil exports to this point, for example Japan and China, may well find this a bridge too far.
The message from the US Congress to Iran is clear: the US government seeks total capitulation or violent confrontation. In so doing, Congress has turned its back on the unique opportunities presented by the election of new president Hassan Rouhani to re-open dialogue between the US and Iran. RPI Academic Advisors Flynt and Hillary Leverett call this missed opportunity “the West’s Strategic Suicide” and we fully agree.
Far from the hardliner or “tool of the Ayatollahs” he was made out to be in the Congressional debate on HR 850, he is actually someone with a record of compromising with Western demands in hopes of improving relations – something he promised to continue once elected. As the Leveretts wrote this week:
From a Western perspective, Rouhani’s diplomatic record might seem relatively accommodating; when he was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003-2005, Tehran suspended enrichment for nearly two years. Rouhani’s approach has been criticized in Iran, for Western powers offered nothing significant in return for suspension.
The Congressional debate was, taken as a whole, a depressing exercise in breathlessly-delivered pre-packaged talking points (helpfully distributed to Members beforehand) and plain untruths repeated ad infinitum. From the canard that Iran is building nuclear weapons (the US Intelligence Community disagrees), to the false assertion that the new president is but a puppet of the Supreme Leader (funny, they never said that when Ahmadinejad was in power), to the illegal demands that Iran unilaterally forego its legal right to enrich uranium under the safeguards provided by the IAEA.
RPI has broken down the debate in the Members’ own words, to bring you “the good, the bad, and the ugly” highlights. See for yourselves what you may have missed. As you might guess, the “good” are those who argue for peace and negotiation, the “bad” are those who distort and fabricate to push for war, and the “ugly” are the just plain outrageous. All statements are taken from the Congressional Record.
The Good"[W]hen Mr. Rouhani was running, the people of Iran knew he was a former nuclear negotiator, and he promised greater nuclear transparency and to pursue, in his words, peace and reconciliation with the outside world. Isn't that just what we are looking for? I can't imagine we are looking for another war of choice, that we want to escalate the rhetoric. This is the best opportunity we have had in at least 8 years, if not more. Why throw that away?"
-Rep. James Moran (D-VA)
"Are you really going to be able to ratchet up these sanctions much more dramatically? Do you expect China and Japan are going to follow that path? And, if they work, what about the dislocations to the American economy and the global economy in moving this oil off the market? I think people ought to consider that. Ultimately, the only solution is a diplomatic solution to try and work this through. We're not going to go to war and nuclear bomb them. We are not going to occupy Iran... I think there is a possibility that that recent election makes a difference in Iran. I hope it does. But one way to guarantee that it doesn't is to tell the Iranian people, We don't care what you do. We're going to ratchet up the sanctions. We're going to undercut the new guy."
-Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
"This may be a very small window of opportunity for a fresh start on dialogue and action on the future of a nuclear Iran. It may be short-lived, depending on how Iran's new President views this moment."
-Rep. James McGovern (D-MA)
"There is no public support in this country for another war. We've seen this movie before. We put sanctions on Iraq. I was here when they put them on. I saw us squeeze them for 10 years. The World Health Organization said 500,000 Iraqi kids died because we cut off medicine and food and other essentials to the Iraq community. Did it end in a change? No. We went to war with them. And if you think that this is going to squeeze and bring us to war, and you think that what happened in Iraq is going to happen here, remember we're 11 years in Iraq. And we do not have a stable democracy today. We have a government that's about to collapse."
-Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA)
"H.R. 850...sends the signal that the U.S. wishes to punish the Iranian people and will only settle for submission, rather than a negotiated, face saving solution that meets the security needs of the United States, Israel, and the entire international community and the economic needs of the Iranian people."
-Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)
"New President in Iran or not, I am convinced that Iran's supreme leader intends to continue on this path because that is what he says he intends to do; that is, unless sanctions bite to the point where the regime has to make a choice between compromise on its nuclear weapons program or the consequences of the sanctions on the regime."
-Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)
"The legislation before us today will significantly ratchet up the pressure and hopefully give our diplomats the leverage they need to persuade Iran that its only viable option is to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons."
-Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY)
"The authoritarian regime in Iran is a brutal theocracy that suppresses dissent at home and sponsors terrorism and chaos abroad...In a bid to establish reasonable dominance, Iran foments instability in neighboring countries and is a co-belligerent in Bashar Assad's ruthless war against the Syrian people. Despite rhetoric that may lead some to a contrary conclusion, this is the nature of a regime that continues its headlong effort to acquire nuclear weapons capability."
-Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)
"We know Iran is the world's most aggressive sponsor of terrorism, extending now into Syria, Libya, Lebanon, even into our hemisphere. We know that Iran is attempting to build an illicit nuclear weapons capability in willful defiance of both the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA, and we know the Supreme Leader and the Ayatollahs remain committed to the destruction of Israel, one of our dearest allies."
-Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)
"This legislation recognizes that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be an urgent threat to regional security and to global security, and, therefore, to the security of the United States of America. This measure builds on the progress made in 2010 when we enacted the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. That law imposed sanctions to companies that sell Iran technology, services, know-how, and materials for its energy sector. It was the strongest Iran sanctions legislation ever passed by the Congress, but we must do more."
-Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
"This new so-called President of Iran is no different than Ahmadinejad. Rouhani is no moderate; he's just slick. He has lied to the United States in the past. Don't be deceived; he is not even in charge of Iran. The Ayatollah is in charge, and the Ayatollah picked all of the candidates running for president. The Ayatollah is still running the shots and is determined to get nuclear weapons and eliminate Israel and then the United States. And then what? Are we going to say, Oops, we made a mistake. ..We need these sanctions. We need a regime change in Iran..."
-Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)
"[A] nuclear Iran is one of our biggest national security threats and the number one existential threat to our ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel. We cannot and must not allow Iran, who is a designated state sponsor of terrorism, to reach nuclear breakout capability. The Obama administration should not be mistaken. The Iranian regime does not want peace. It still wants to wipe Israel off the map. Iran may be able to process low-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by next year...Iran supports and fights alongside Assad's forces, brutally slaughtering thousands of Syrians. Rouhani has no intention of changing Iran's dangerous path, and the ultimate decisionmaker in this oppressive regime remains the Ayatollah Khamenei, who has a blatant hatred of us and our allies."
-Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
"The Iranian government is estimated to be a little more than a year away from developing nuclear weapons, an unprecedented and absolutely unacceptable threat. Iran's repeated threats to annihilate Israel are unconscionable and constitute a direct and public incitement to commit genocide in violation of article III of the 1948 Genocide Convention... [T]his bill dramatically ramps up sanctions pushed so effectively by Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen last Congress not only to pressure Iran to negotiate, but also to mitigate Iran's emerging capability to launch the genocidal war against Israel it has been threatening for years. This is a bipartisan bill, and it sends a clear, unmistakable message to Iran that we mean business."
-Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)
In the end, there were 20 Members who voted against this latest Iran sanctions bill. No doubt they felt the sting of both parties' leadership, which makes threats and demands in equal measure. These brave Members who voted against the planned war on Iran are to be commended.
Earl Blumenauer (OR-3)
Andre Carson (IN-7)
Donna F. Edwards (MD-4)
Keith Ellison (IL-5) Raul Grijalva (AZ-3)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Betty McCollum (MN-4)
Jim McDermott (WA-7)
James McGovern (MA-2)
George Miller (CA-11)
James Moran (VA-8)
Beto O'Rourke (TX-16)
Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10)
David Price (NC-4)
Peter Visclosky (IN-1)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Justin Amash (MI -3)
Walter B. Jones (NC-3)
Thomas Massie (KY-4)
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