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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2008, pages 30-31

Congress Watch

Congress Fails to Pass New Iran Sanctions Bill, But May Try Again

By Shirl McArthur

AS THE 110TH Congress wound down its regular session, several attempts were made to get an Iran sanctions bill passed that would be signed by President George W. Bush. The previously described H.R. 1400, which the House passed in September 2007, and its Senate counterpart, S. 970, were apparently abandoned in favor of the more recent H.Con.Res. 362 and its counterpart S.Res. 580. The measures, described in detail in the September/October issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,, continued to attract co-sponsors, with H.Con.Res. 362 having 281 co-sponsors and S.Res. 580 having 52. However, because the measures appeared to call for a total land, sea, and air blockade of Iran (explicitly in the case of H.Con.Res. 362, and implicitly in S.Res. 580), the congressional leadership seemed reluctant to bring them to a floor vote.

At this point Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and the Senate Banking Committee attempted to write an Iran sanctions bill that could be passed by the Senate. As a result, Dodd, with no co-sponsors, introduced S. 3445 on Aug. 1. It does not call for a blockade of Iran, but, as with previous Iran sanctions measures, consists of all sanctions and no incentives. It was placed on the Senate calendar but was not acted upon by the end of the regular session.

Dodd also tried to get the text of S. 3445 inserted as an amendment to S. 3001, the Defense Authorization bill, which was one of the few must-pass measures. Several other Iran-related measures also were offered as amendments to S. 3001. However, in the end S. 3001 was passed on Sept. 17 with none of the Iran-related amendments, including Dodd’s.

Attention then turned to the House, where Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) was developing a new Iran sanctions bill that included most of S. 3445 plus S. 1430, the bill introduced in May by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) that would authorize divestiture of investments in Iran. Positively, however, Berman’s bill also included a section saying that the U.S. “should use diplomatic and economic means to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem” and should “continue to support efforts in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council,” and that “nothing in this act shall be construed as authorizing the use of force or the use of the U.S. armed forces against Iran.”

On Sept. 26, Berman, with 11 co-sponsors, introduced H.R. 7112, and it was brought to the full House under “suspension of the rules” (a procedure designed to be used for routine, administrative, or non-controversial measures) the same day and passed by voice vote. It was then sent to the Senate, where on Oct. 2 (the last day of the regular session) Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tried to have it passed unanimously. But Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) objected, saying that the Banking Committee was working on new language. Normally, that would have been the end of it, but it is almost certain that Congress will be called back for a “lame duck” session, probably in mid-November, to deal with the financial crisis, when they will have ample opportunity to cause further mischief.

The U.S. “should use diplomatic and economic means to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem.”

While all this was happening, three new, positive measures were introduced. In the House, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), with 11 co-sponsors, on Aug. 1 introduced H.Res. 1410 “supporting efforts to advance U.S. international diplomacy and engagement in order to restore U.S. credibility abroad.” On Sept. 18, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), with eight co-sponsors, introduced H.R. 6951 “to prohibit use of funds by the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Defense to provide covert or clandestine assistance for the purpose of overthrowing the Government of Iran.” In the Senate, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), with no co-sponsors, introduced S. 3578 to “establish a commission to assess the nuclear activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Congress Passes Law Assuring Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge”

The August Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, described the House’s passage on May 15, under suspension of the rules, of H.R. 5916, innocuously entitled “to reform the administration of the Arms Export Control Act,” which actually would constitute a significant advancement of the U.S.-Israel military relationship, since it would codify assuring Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) over potential military threats. The bill was forwarded to the Senate Foreign Relations committee, which did not act on it.

Not to be denied, however, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Berman (“Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist”), along with fellow staunch Israel-firster Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), on Sept. 27 introduced H.R. 7177, equally innocuously entitled “to authorize transfer of naval vessels to certain foreign countries.” This is a relatively routine measure that has been passed in previous years to transfer old vessels, mostly support ships, to friendly countries (including, of course, Israel). But this time, in addition to extending the previous authorization to transfer vessels, this bill includes some additional sections that are identical to Israel-related sections in H.R. 5916. Among them is one that would require the president to continually assess “the extent to which Israel possesses a qualitative military edge over military threats,” and would require any proposed sale or export of arms to other Middle East countries to be conditioned on a certification that the sale or export does not adversely affect Israel’s QME. As with H.R. 5916, H.R. 7177 also authorizes implementation of last year’s Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel regarding eliminating economic aid and increasing military grants to Israel (see the March 2008 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, for details). Specifically, it authorizes FY ’09 military aid of the amount specified for FY ’08 ($2.4 billion) plus $150 million, and, of this amount, “not less than” $670.65 million may be spent in Israel.

The bill was passed by the House, under suspension of the rules, by voice vote on Sept. 27 and sent to the Senate, where it was passed unanimously on Oct. 1. Bush signed it on Oct. 15.

Congress Passes “Continuing Resolution” Including Foreign Aid Funds

Since Congress failed to pass most appropriations bills for FY ’09, which began Oct. 1 of this year, H.R. 2638, the Homeland Security appropriations bill, was chosen as a vehicle for the “continuing resolution” renewing appropriations for FY ’09 at the FY ’08 level, with some exceptions. Bush signed the bill on Sept. 30, and it became law as P.L. 110-329.

The earmarked aid appropriations for FY ’08 were, before an .81 percent rescission: for Israel, no economic aid, $2.4 billion in military aid, and $40 million for “refugee assistance”; for the West Bank and Gaza, “not more than” $218.5 million in economic aid; for Egypt, $415 million in economic aid and $1.3 billion in military aid; for Jordan, $363.547 million in economic aid and $300 million in military aid; and for Lebanon, $45 million in economic aid. Added to the $2.4 billion military aid to Israel is $150 million, bringing the total to $2.55 billion—consistent with the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the U.S. and Israel in 2007 that the U.S. will provide Israel with $30 billion in military aid over the next 10 years. H.R. 2638 has a separate provision saying that $670.65 million of Israel’s military aid can be spent in Israel to keep the percentage amount at 26.3 percent.

Four Other Middle-East Related Measures Passed Under “Suspension”

Three non-binding House resolutions concerning incitement or perceived anti-Semitism were passed under suspension of the rules. On June 18, the House passed H.Res. 1127, introduced in April by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) with 35 co-sponsors, “condemning the endemic restrictions of freedom of the press and media and public expression in the Middle East and the concurrent and widespread presence of anti-Semitic incitement to violence and Holocaust denial in the Arab media and press.” On Sept. 9, the House passed H.Res. 1069, introduced in April by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) with 44 co-sponsors, “condemning the broadcasting of incitement to violence against Americans and the U.S. in media based in the Middle East, [and] calling for the designation of al-Aqsa TV as a Specially Designated Terrorist entity.” And on Sept. 23, the House passed H.Res. 1361, introduced in July by Berman with 24 co-sponsors, “expressing the sense of the House that the U.S. should lead a high-level diplomatic effort to ensure that the Durban Review Conference serves as a forum to review implementation of commitments made at the 2001 Durban Conference to combat all forms of racism by defeating the campaign by some members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to divert the U.N.’s Durban Review Conference from a review of problems in their own and other countries by attacking Israel, promoting anti-Semitism, and undermining the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

One positive resolution was passed under suspension of the rules, however. On Sept. 23, the House passed H.Res. 1369, introduced in July by Lee with 35 co-sponsors, “recognizing nongovernmental organizations working to bring just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

More Objections to No Congressional Approval on Iraq Security Agreement

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have worked for months to reach agreement on a long-term U.S.-Iraq security agreement, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in October that the two sides were close to resolving their differences. Meanwhile, the previously described measures objecting to such an agreement with Iraq without congressional approval have bogged down. However, identical new bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate “to ensure than any agreement with Iraq containing a security commitment or arrangement is concluded as a treaty or is approved by Congress.” Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), with four co-sponsors, introduced S. 3433 on Oct. 1, and Lee, with 13 co-sponsors, introduced H.R. 6846 on Sept. 9.

Shirl McArthur, a retired U.S. foreign service officer, is a consultant based in the Washington, DC area.