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The Treachery of Boehner and Bibi

Congress just might scuttle Obama's negiotiations with Iran
by Lou Dubose

Jan 26, 2015 | Blog



“You know that old Beach Boys song, ‘Bomb Iran’? ‘Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.'”
—Senator John McCain April 2007

The more you know about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress, the worse it looks.

Netanyahu’s has been working to scuttle negotiations with Iran: the U.S.-directed effort to ensure that Tehran cannot achieve “break-out capacity” to build a nuclear weapon. Break-out capacity means sufficient fissile material to build a bomb within one year.

Netanyahu has said that a negotiated settlement with Iran is impossible and has threatened to use military force if Iran develops nuclear weapons. (Israel is the only Middle East nation with nuclear weapons and delivery systems to use them, although it never acknowledges its nuclear capacity.)

The U.S. is leading the negotiations, which include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Iran.

The Israeli prime minister’s contempt for the Obama White House is not exactly breaking news.

Not widely reported in the U.S. press is the fact that Obama telephoned Netanyahu more than a week before he accepted Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address the Congress.

Netanyahu had been personally lobbying members of Congress to pass Iran-sanctions legislation, which would almost certainly force Iran to abandon negotiations.

According to a January 23 story in Haaretz, a liberal Israeli daily, Obama warned Netanyahu on January 12:

U.S. President Barack Obama has demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stop encouraging U.S. senators and congressmen to advance new sanctions legislation against Iran.

A senior American official, who asked to remain anonymous due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said Obama gave Netanyahu this message during a telephone call on Monday, January 12.

The Israeli prime minister’s contempt for the Obama White House is not exactly breaking news.

In 2010, he refused to intervene when his interior minister announced plans to construct 1,600 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem, construction opposed by the U.S. The announcement was made just hours after Vice President Joe Biden, on an official visit to Israel, reaffirmed America’s unyielding support for Israeli security.

Netanyahu’s plan to address the Congress comes at a critical moment in the negotiations with Iran, with the Republican leadership in the Senate scheduling a Iran-sanctions vote that will pass or fail by a razor-thin margin.

According to Jamil Abdi, a former congressional aide now working as policy director for the National Iranian American Council, 65 senators (53 Republicans and 12 Democrats) are expected to vote for an Iran sanctions bill scheduled to be heard by the Senate Banking Committee this Thursday. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).

(Abdi spoke on a webinar organized by the peace-advocacy group Women’s Action for New Directions.)

All Netanyahu has to do is swing two senators and the bill imposing “trigger sanctions” on Iran will pass the Senate by a veto-proof margin. There is little doubt that the House would pass a companion bill.

A similar bill, which included provisions that would almost certainly have unraveled the negotiations, was blocked last year by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The now-Republican-controlled Senate leadership has announced that passage of a bill aimed at the negotiations was their No. 2 priority, after passing a Keystone bill. Now that they have a Keystone bill on the floor, they are now moving on Iran sanctions.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential pro-Israel lobby and huge donor in congressional races, has been lobbying to pass any bill that would scuttle the sanctions.

J Street, a far more moderate Israeli-policy advocacy group, (along with WAND and other progressive organizations) is working in opposition to the sanctions bill and is opposing “Bibi” Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S.

“This invitation looks like a thinly-veiled attempt to scuttle the critical negotiations taking place right now aimed at ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon,” J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote in an email. “Bibi and Obama disagree on how to deal with Iran, and that’s fair. But a foreign leader lobbying Congress (from the same spot where the President delivered his State of the Union address just days ago!) is inappropriate.”

The original February date for Netanyahu’s speech was scratched and he is now scheduled for March 1, to coincide with AIPAC’s national convention in Washington.

Senate Republicans—John McCain, Lindsey Graham, et al., leaders of the faction that supported George W. Bush’s militarized foreign policy—publically insist that their intention is to strengthen the hand of the U.S. negotiation team.

Behind closed doors they probably agree with Tom Cotton, a freshman senator from Arkansas who serves on the intelligence and armed service committees. On January 15 Cotton said in remarks at the Heritage Foundation:

Certain voices call for congressional restraint urging Congress not to act now, lest Iran walk away from the negotiating table, undermining the fabled yet always absent moderates in Iran. But the end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence–a feature, not a bug.

An end to negotiations means interim agreements between Iran and Washington will be suspended, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors currently working in Iran will be sent packing, enrichment of uranium will be increased and new centrifuges will come on line.

And we will be a step closer to whatever solution Netanyahu has in mind.

Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator. Art credit: Kevin Kreneck.

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  1. It was the Republicans who got us into a war of choice (“He tried to kill my dad” referring to Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush said.) in Iraq. Now they want to do the same thing in Iran. I sincerely hope that one day the American people get their head out of their collective butt, and see the stupidity of this tactic.

  2. Senators Diane Feinstein and Chris Murphy introduced a resolution Jan. 26 to support the P5+1 negotiations. A couple of corrections to the record: Bibi will address Congress on March 3, a Tuesday; and AIPAC lobbies Congress but does not as an organization donate to candidates.

  3. Responding to Palmer’s comments, the American people do not have their head up their “collective butt.” That statement is uncalled for. People are busy with their very complicated lives sir and we rely on our elected legislators to represent us and to tell the truth. Obviously almost all of them don’t deserve that level of trust. Regarding the actions of W. Bush, Cheney, et al., we the People were lied to about the fictitious WMD. Who pays the price? The soldiers and the American people. The politicians get off scott free. We don’t seem to be able to hold them accountable. Too much political power and defense contractor money is involved.

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