[DEBATE] : AIPAC on Iran: "It’s the Sanctions, Stupid"
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Thu Jun 5 04:51:12 BST 2008
June 2, 2008
Iran sanctions figure large in AIPAC lobbying
By Ron Kampeas
As 5,000 AIPAC activists ascend Capitol Hill this week, they will be
pushing a multifaceted agenda with a clear bottom line: It's the
Some new wrinkles in the lobbying blitz that traditionally follows the
annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy forum deal with
the role of Arab nations in advancing Israel-Arab peace and with
securing a pledged increase in U.S. assistance to Israel.
But the most dramatic advance is in a proposal to cut off refined
petroleum exports to Iran, hitting 40 percent of that country's gas
AIPAC has led the way since the mid-1990s in advocating for sanctions
aimed at crippling the Iranian economy until the Islamic Republic ends
its suspected nuclear weapons program. In recent years, the notion of
sanctioning Iran has gained traction, with the U.N. Security Council
imposing three sets of sanctions in the past 18 months.
Still, the sanctions regime has apparently had little effect: U.N.
nuclear weapons inspectors last month delivered a blistering report
saying that Iran was taking steps to hide its weapons program. In
addition, inspectors say they have evidence suggesting that some
elements of the Iranian program were military and not peaceful—in
sharp contrast to Tehran's claims.
After two days of sessions heavily weighted toward considering the
possibility of a nuclear threat, 5,000 of the 7,000 activists will
head to 500 meetings on the Hill armed with talking points for a bill
that has languished in the U.S. Senate since it passed overwhelmingly
in the House of Representatives last year.
The Iran Counter Proliferation Act would expand existing sanctions by
hitting companies and nations that deal with Iran's energy sector. It
also would cut off Iran entirely from the U.S. finance system.
Bolstering that bill is a nonbinding resolution put forward last week
by U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.). The
resolution urges President Bush to immediately impose some of the
sanctions in the Counter Proliferation Act and adds the new proposal:
cut off the export of refined petroleum to Iran.
"Despite sitting on some of the largest oil reserves in the world,
Iran has been forced to import 40 percent of its refined
petroleum—gasoline and diesel—because of a lack of investment in its
oil refining infrastructure," states the memo prepared for AIPAC
activists. "Limiting Iran¹s ability to import gasoline will severely
impact Iran¹s economy and could lead to dramatically greater domestic
pressure on the regime to change course."
The language of the congressional resolution is sensitive to the
political realities of a presidential campaign that has made the
possibility of war against Iran a partisan issue: It explicitly counts
out military action—a point hammered home in the AIPAC talking points.
"The resolution specifically states that nothing in the resolution
shall be construed to be an authorization for military action," the
sheet says. "In fact, the sanctions called for in H. Con. Res. 362 are
the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability by
avoiding military action."
Additionally, the action part of the resolution opens by declaring
"that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability,
through all appropriate economic, political, and diplomatic means is
vital to the national security interests of the United States and must
be dealt with urgently."
Notably absent from AIPAC's talking points is any mention of military
force—a prospect that spooks Democrats and would discomfit an
organization that prides itself on its bipartisanship.
The proposal falls just shy of reported suggestions from Israel's
government that the United States and Britain blockade Iran's ports to
keep out refined petroleum. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
reportedly brought up the proposal in conversations last month with
U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House speaker. Olmert and
Pelosi are addressing the AIPAC conference.
AIPAC in its talking points is generally careful to hew to areas where
Democrats and Republicans agree when it comes to Iran. However, some
of the language would appear to clash with specific policies
associated with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the likely Democratic
presidential nominee who also is addressing the conference.
"Entering into a dialogue before Iran has complied with U.N.
resolutions and suspended its uranium enrichment could undermine
Security Council decisions and allow Tehran to use the dialogue as a
way to continue advancing its nuclear program," the AIPAC memo states.
"Iran used previous talks with the European Union to make significant
advances in its nuclear program while staving off international
That hardly jibes with Obama's support for dialogue backed up by what
he calls tough diplomacy; it sounds of a piece with the rhetoric of
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama's Republican rival.
Furthermore, in conference literature AIPAC proudly touts support in
both the House and Senate for language declaring the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group.
Obama was not present for that vote, but said he would would have
opposed the measure, a position favored by many liberal Democratic
activists. Obama's main Democratic rival in the primaries, U.S. Sen.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), backed the language.
Also on the lobbying agenda is Bush's proposal to increase U.S.
assistance to Israel from an average of $2.4 billion to $3 billion
annually. Letters circulating in both chambers of Congress urge the
president to continue his efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian
The letters, initiated in the House by its leaders, and in the Senate
by Mary Landrieu (R-La.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), do not mention
recent backing by Bush and Congress for increased U.S. financial and
political support for Palestinian moderates. Instead they decry the
alleged lack of such support from Arab nations.
"We anticipated more from nations that have claimed reaching such an
agreement is one of their top priorities," the letters say. "We
struggle to understand why those Arab states that are flush with oil
revenues cannot provide meaningful financial assistance to the
The emphasis underscores a tone throughout AIPAC's materials that
suggests a skepticism about the peace process. The talking points pose
a question: "Can a peace agreement still be reached this year?"
Its answer is hardly committal: "Israel and the Palestinians have both
made clear that any agreement reached will be subject to the
implementation of the first phase of the 'road map.' In Israeli eyes,
this must include an end to violence and the dismantling of the
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