Congressional Resolution Demands Bush Act on Iran


Monday 23 June 2008


by: Maya Schenwar and Matt Renner



President Bush in Germany on June 11 emphasized that "all options are on the table" when discussing taking actions against Iran if it is found to be researching or developing nuclear weapons. Expected to arrive on the House floor this week is a non-binding resolution that leaves the door open for a military blockade of Iran.


    A non-binding resolution to demand that President Bush impose "stringent inspection requirements" on trade with Iran - language that leaves the door open for a military blockade - will likely come to the House floor this week, according to sources close to Congressional leadership. The legislation, H.Con.Res.362, which is paralleled by a similar Senate bill, has gained bipartisan support rapidly, with more co-sponsors signing on by the day. Once it hits the floor, it's bound to "pass like a hot knife through butter," a staffer in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office told Chelsea Mozen of the nonprofit Just Foreign Policy.


    Trita Parsi, co-founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), concurred, saying passage may happen as early as Tuesday.


    "This bill will likely be put on the floor under suspension - meaning that it will pass without even a vote," Parsi told Truthout.


    Bills placed under rules of suspension are usually uncontroversial. However, this one is an ominous exception, according to Parsi.


    "It sets the stage for a very dangerous escalation," he said.


    The most strongly worded section of the legislation is article three, which states: "Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress - (3) demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia [among other things], prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program."


    The resolution makes no mention of the National Intelligence Estimate report released in December 2007, which found that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003.


    The language regarding inspection requirements and restrictions of movement have led critics of the bill to suggest that, if implemented, this type of international sanction would amount to an embargo and would have to be put into place at gunpoint. Such action would be illegal under international law, unless approved by the UN, according to Ethan Chorin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East Program. UN approval is not mentioned in the bill.


    Moreover, the resolution would unquestionably send a hostile message to Iran, according to Chorin.


    "The Iranians would certainly view this as an act of war, whether or not they acted on it as such," Chorin told Truthout. "All of this would confirm the Gulf Arabs' perceptions that the US is playing an increasingly destabilizing role in the region."


    However, despite the new Iran resolution's hard-line language, it counts some of Congress's most liberally voting members among its co-sponsors, including Representative Robert Wexler, an outspoken advocate of impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney; Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, one of Congress's most vocal critics of the Bush administration's missteps; and Representative Jan Schakowsky, rated the most liberal Democrat in Congress by the nonpartisan vote-tracking project GovTrack.


    Mozen cites heavy lobbying as one motivation for the resolution's widespread support. The bill was promoted by the highly influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which, according to Parsi, has been the driving force behind its momentum.


    "[H.Con.Res.362] was the top agenda point of the 7,000 AIPAC members who descended on Capitol Hill two weeks ago," Parsi said.


    A spokesperson for AIPAC denied allegations that the legislation would necessitate a naval blockade or military actions to accomplish its goals.


    "People describing it as a blockade [are] totally inaccurate.

This bill is about increasing sanctions on Iran and banning the sale of refined petroleum products to the country," AIPAC spokesperson Josh Block told Truthout, adding, "it is being misportrayed by groups like NIAC."


    The self-titled America's pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, has been pushing for increased pressure on Iran to prevent that country's alleged goal of acquiring nuclear weapons.


    Just days after the bill was originally introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Gary Ackerman (D-New York), AIPAC put out a memo detailing its support for the intentions of the legislation. The memo does not specifically mention the proposed legislation, but contains almost identical language.


    AIPAC memo:

    The United States should sanction the Central Bank of Iran for its involvement in the funding of terrorism and the financing of Iran's proliferation activities.


    H. Con. Res. 362 (2)(A):

    Congress urges the President, in the strongest of terms, to immediately use his existing authority to impose sanctions on - the Central Bank of Iran and any other Iranian bank engaged in proliferation activities or the support of terrorist groups;


    AIPAC memo:

    The United States should impose sanctions on companies that have invested more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector in violation of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), originally passed in 1996.


    H. Con. Res. 362 (2)(C):

    Congress urges the President, in the strongest of terms, to immediately use his existing authority to impose sanctions on - energy companies that have invested $20,000,000 or more in the Iranian petroleum or natural gas sector in any given year since the enactment of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996.


    AIPAC memo:

    The United States also should use existing authority to sanction foreign entities that continue to do business with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ...


    H. Con. Res. 362 (2)(D):

    Congress urges the President, in the strongest of terms, to immediately use his existing authority to impose sanctions on - all companies which continue to do business with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.


    "We don't draft legislation. We support this Congressional effort. We were reflecting the sentiment of the legislation in our statements," Block said when asked about the similarities.


    Jordan Goldes, press secretary for Representative Ackerman, the bill's author, did not return calls for comment on the similarities between the two documents by press time.


    Besides AIPAC's strong pull, Mozen pointed to the resolution's references to diplomacy as a draw for some vocal antiwar Democrats.


    "Some in Congress see such a resolution, in part because it is non-binding, as a way to forestall or prevent more serious action against Iran," Mozen said. "However, with the atmosphere as it is on the Hill, with the election debate hinging in part on the debate about Iran, most folks in favor of diplomacy won't be pro-active for it, I gather because they think this will open them up to criticism.

Those in favor of stronger action on Iran are pushing for it now and they have AIPAC pushing too. As a result, the folks that want to wait it out are looking to non-binding resolutions to quiet the need for stronger action and buy them time until January. I suppose it seems like a tug-o-war with only one side tugging and the other thinking about when to tug in the future."


    Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy's national coordinator, noted that the bill's "non-binding" status is deceptive. The bill does not immediately do anything; it merely expresses a "sense of Congress."

In itself, it does not authorize war, he added.


    "It still has consequences," Naiman told Truthout. "The Kyl- Lieberman resolution was a non-binding resolution and it helped lead to the Quds Force being classified as a terrorist organization."


    While liberal-leaning Congress members may perceive the passage of a non-binding resolution as a stall tactic, keeping the administration sated while waiting for a new administration to take office, Mozen called the legislation a "slippery slope" toward further tensions.


    "It certainly would not be good to set such a precedent from Congress that could taint the ability of the next administration to make progress in US-Iranian relations," Mozen said.