Monday, March 11, 2013
Post #417 - The Grey Lady Awakes
Congress Gets in the Way
If there is any hope for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran, President Obama needs Congress to support negotiations. But negotiations and compromise are largely anathema in Washington, with many lawmakers insisting that any deal with Iran would be unacceptable — a stance that would make military action by Israel and the United States far more likely.
Last week, just as Iran and the major powers made some small progress in talks and agreed to meet again, two measures were introduced in Congress that could harm negotiations.
One is a Senate resolution sponsored by Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican. It says that if Israel “is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military and economic support to the government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people and existence.” No one doubts that the United States would defend Israel if it was attacked by Iran; that commitment has been made repeatedly by President Obama and his predecessors. The nonbinding resolution, promoted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group, would not authorize any specific action, but it would increase political pressure on Mr. Obama by putting Congress on record as backing a military operation initiated by Israel at a time of Israel’s choosing. It could also hamper negotiations by playing into Iranian fears that America’s true intention is to promote regime change.
The second measure, a bipartisan bill, would pile on tougher sanctions just as the two sides are trying to create trust after decades of hostility. The bill would further restrict business dealings with Iran, widen the list of blacklisted Iranian companies and individuals, and potentially block Iran’s access to foreign bank assets held in euros. It could unravel the international coalition against Iran by penalizing countries — like Turkey, India, South Korea and China — that have not done enough to enforce sanctions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told the annual Aipac conference this week that there must be a “credible military threat” against Iran. Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. also assured the group that Mr. Obama would use force if needed.
The best way to avert military conflict is by negotiating a credible, verifiable agreement. It is a very long shot. But Congress needs to give the talks time to play out and not make diplomatic efforts even harder.