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Kirk-Menendez-Schumer: Wag the Dog Act of 2014

The latest sanctions bill—introduced by "pro-Israel" Sens. Mark Kirk, Robert Menendez, and Chuck Schumer—violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the recent U.S. accord with Iran, and was likely designed to sink the interim accord over Iran's nuclear enrichment program.

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Copies of the bill that Sens. Kirk, Menendez, and Schumer hope to introduce in the Senate soon — presumably to be pressed for passage after the Christmas/New Year recess — are circulating around Washington, and, as predicted, it is clearly designed to sabotage last month’s first-phase deal (the Joint Plan of Action) on Tehran’s nuclear program, as well as prospects for a final agreement. The bill is called the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013, although I would prefer to call it the Wag the Dog Act of 2014, given the implicit discretion it gives to Bibi Netanyahu to commit the U.S. to war with Iran. Its key provisions, as described by the sponsors, are laid out at the end of this post.

A couple of very quick observations about the bill first:

1) Despite its prospective application, it is definitely a sanctions bill and thus violates at least the spirit — if not the letter — of the Joint Plan of Action.

2) It requires that any final agreement include the dismantling of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities — a condition, which Iran has made clear repeatedly, is a non-starter.

3)As noted below, it expresses a “Sense of Congress” that “America will have Israel’s back if Israel acts in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” (Mind you, not against an actual or imminent attack, but against “Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” which, so far as Israel and the co-sponsors are concerned, Iran already has.) More specifically, the bill states:

…if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence…

At least, Congress will have to approve an authorization to use military force (AUMF) before it can actually be employed.

4)As I’ve noted in past posts, the two main co-sponsors of this legislation are also two of the biggest recipients of campaign funding from “pro-Israel” political action committees (PACs) associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in the U.S. Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website. By a wide margin, Kirk was the biggest recipient of pro-Israel PAC money in Congress since 2002; in his most recent campaign (2012), Menendez received more than $340,000 from pro-Israel Pacs, beating out all other Senate candidates. Schumer, a major rainmaker for other Democratic candidates (which poses a very serious challenge to the Obama administration in keeping his party in line on any vote on this bill) ranked fifth in his 2010 race at more than $260,000, far behind Kirk, the year’s winner at nearly $640,000. Let there be no doubt about it: this bill was approved by AIPAC and is thus as close to the position of the Israeli government as its followers here believe will be politically palatable. (Saudi Arabia will also be pleased.)

There will likely be much more meticulous analyses of the Wag the Dog Act of 2014 that will no doubt point up other highly problematic elements, but here’s the summary of the bill that’s circulating on Capitol Hill today:

Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013

 

I. Findings and Sense of Congress. The bill expresses the following key principles:

1)      The Government of Iran must not be allowed to develop or maintain nuclear weapon capabilities, and all instruments of power and influence of the United States should remain on the table to prevent the Government of Iran from developing nuclear weapon capabilities;

2)      The Government of Iran does not have an absolute or inherent right to enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and technologies under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;

3)      A violation by Iran of any interim or final agreement with respect to the nuclear program of Iran should result in the immediate imposition of economic sanctions;

4)      The United States should continue to enforce sanctions on the Government of Iran and its terrorist proxies for their continuing sponsorship of terrorism, ongoing abuses of human rights, and actions in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria; and

5)      America will have Israel’s back if Israel acts in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

 

II. New Contingency-Based Sanctions to Protect Against Iranian Deception

The bill does not violate the Joint Plan of Action.  New sanctions would only be imposed if Iran violates the interim agreement or does not reach a final agreement regarding its nuclear program.  Such deceptive Iranian behavior would be met with the following new sanctions:

A)    Sanctions on Condensates, Fuel Oil and other Unfinished Oils from Iran.Requires a significant reduction in the import of all petroleum products extracted, produced or refined in Iran, including lease condensates, fuel oils and other unfinished oils on top of crude oil.

B)     Reductions in purchases of Iranian petroleum to de minimis levels. To avoid sanctions, countries must at a minimum reduce their purchases of Iranian-based petroleum products by 30% within one year and further reduce purchases to de minimis levels within two years.

 

C)    Strategic Sector Sanctions on Iran’s Engineering, Mining, and Construction Sectors.Expands business and financial sanctions targeting Iran’s strategic economic sectors to include Iran’s engineering, manufacturing, and mining sectors.

 

D)    Sanctions on Foreign Exchange Transaction by Designated Iranian Actors. Imposes sanctions with respect to transactions in foreign currencies with or for the Central Bank of Iran, a designated financial institution, or a person that is part of a strategic sector of Iran.

 

E)     Sanctions on Countries Illicitly Diverting Goods to Iran.  Authorizes sanctions against countries permitting diversion of goods and services to Iran that may be used to make a material contribution to Iran’s development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons; ballistic missile or advanced conventional weapons capabilities; support for terrorism; or a strategic sector of Iran.

 

F)     Sanctions on Human Rights Abusers, Sanctions Evaders & Other Illicit Actors. Requires visa denial and asset blocking of those enabling Iran to evade sanctions, as well as senior officials of the Office of the Supreme Leader, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the Council of Ministers, Ministries of Defenses and Justice, and others.

III. Suspension of Sanctions – Explaining the Contingencies

A)    During the first 180 days of negotiations, the President can suspend the sanctions contained in this bill so long as he certifies to Congress every 30 days that—

1.Iran is complying with and transparently, fully, and verifiably implementing the provisions of the Joint Plan of Action and Iran has not breached the terms of or any commitment made pursuant to the Plan;

2.any suspension or relief of sanctions provided to Iran pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action are temporary, reversible, and proportionate to the specific and verifiable steps taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program and related weaponization activities;

3.Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. persons or property;

4.Iran has not conducted a ballistic missile test with a range exceeding 500 km; and

5.the suspension of sanctions is vital to the national security of the United States.

B)    After these 180 days are up, 2 additional 30 day periods –

1.If the President certifies the above and certifies that a final agreement is imminent (and that such agreement will fully and verifiably dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology), sanctions can be delayed for another 30 days;

2.Then, if the President certifies the above AND certifies that such a final agreement with Iran is still imminent, sanctions can be delayed for another 30-day period.

C)    If after this total period of 240 days there still is no final agreement with Iran as described above, sanctions are re-imposed, but President can waive sanctions for 120 more days.  The bill provides the President with four 30-day national security waivers to delay the sanctions – ending at the 1-year mark from the start date of this bill.  Sanctions must be re-imposed thereafter.

 

D)    If at any time the President cannot certify the criteria listed above (that is, Iran violates the interim agreement or no final agreement is imminent after 180 days) –

1.sanctions waived or suspended under the interim agreement are re-imposed; and

2.the new sanctions in this bill must be implemented.

E)    If a final agreement with Iran over its nuclear program is reached –

1.Subject to a Joint Resolution of Congressional Disapproval, the President may suspend new sanctions for one-year if he certifies to the Congress that a final and verifiable agreement has been reached with Iran that will

1.                    i. dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology, such that Iran is precluded from a nuclear breakout capability and prevented from pursuing both uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon;

2.                   ii. bring Iran into compliance with all United Nations Security Council resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program, including Resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), and 1929 (2010), with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the Security Council’s consideration of matters relating to Iran’s nuclear program;

3.                    iii. resolve all issues of past and present concern with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program;

4.                   iv. permit continuous, around the clock, on-site inspection, verification, and monitoring of all suspect facilities in Iran, including installation and use of any compliance verification equipment requested by the IAEA, so that any effort by Iran to produce a nuclear weapon would be quickly detected; and

5.                   v. require Iran’s full implementation of and compliance with its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, including modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements to the Agreement, ratification and implementation of the Protocol Additional to the Agreement Between Iran and the IAEA for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, done at Vienna December 18, 2003 (commonly referred to as the ‘‘Additional Protocol’’), and Iran’s implementation of steps in addition to the Additional Protocol that include IAEA verification of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities, including raw materials and components, and Iran’s uranium mines and mills.

1.If Congress enacts the Joint Resolution of Congressional Disapproval, any sanctions suspended under a final agreement would be re-imposed.

1.Additional 1-Year Suspension PeriodsIf Congress does not disapprove, the President must still renew the suspension of sanctions every year by certifying that Iran is complying with the final agreement criteria described above.

IV. Expedited Processing of Religious Minorities Fleeing Iran: Re-authorizes the Lautenberg Amendment, which expired earlier this year, until September 30, 2014.

You can find a copy of the bill here.

The White House and all those who want to save the diplomatic track have their work cut out for them.

Jim Lobe is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy, particularly the neoconservative influence in the Bush administration. The Washington Bureau Chief of the international news agency Inter Press Service (IPS), Lobe has written for various outlets and was featured in BBC and ABC television documentaries about motivations for the US invasion of Iraq. 

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