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The Obama administration on Thursday stepped up criticism of  Democratic senators who are backing more sanctions against Iran, reports Ryan Grim:
"If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so," Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement. "Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed."
In other words, the 16 Democratic senators who are co-sponsoring a bill supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—S. 1881 (the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act)—are opting for war. Forty-two Republican senators are also signed on as co-sponsors. The bill isn't expected to be voted on anytime soon.

The administration has publicly opposed the bill since it was introduced in December by Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. But this is the first time it has all but called the bill's supporters warmongers. Senate foes of the bill, including 10 committee chairs, have objected on the grounds that new sanctions now would strengthen the hand of hard-liners in Iran who do not want any negotiated agreement that curtails their country's development of nuclear power.

Asked in a December interview with Time magazine what would happen if new sanctions were imposed by Congress, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said flat out:

The entire deal is dead. We do not like to negotiate under duress. And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States. I know the domestic complications and various issues inside the United States, but for me that is no justification. I have a parliament. My parliament can also adopt various legislation that can go into effect if negotiations fail. But if we start doing that, I don’t think that we will be getting anywhere. Now we have tried to ask our members of parliament to avoid that. We may not succeed. The U.S. government may not succeed. If we don’t try, then we can’t expect the other side to accept that we are serious about the process.
You can read more about this below the fold. But first, make your voice heard for diplomacy.

In a response published as an Op-Ed in Thursday's Washington Post, Menendez, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said of the new sanctions bill that a "diplomatic insurance policy is an act of reasonable pragmatism":

[T]hese prospective sanctions play a positive and reinforcing role in negotiations. The big winner is the administration. Its ability to pursue a diplomatic path is enhanced by being able to communicate this position in its negotiations with Iran.

This is hardly a march to war, as some critics have suggested. The legislation explicitly does not authorize the use of force, though it does restate the language of a resolution, passed 99 to 0 by the Senate, supporting the United States’ commitment to Israel, should Israel be forced to defend itself against Iran.

What does that language actually say? Section 2, (b) (5):
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
"Legitimate self-defense" would normally be taken to mean a response to an actual or imminent attack from Iran. But Israel still operates under the Begin Doctrine. This prescribes preventive warfare against any nation Israeli officials believe is developing nuclear weapons and poses a threat to Israel. Sort of like shooting up your estranged neighbor's house because you heard he was thinking about buying a gun.

What that language does is commit the United States to make war on Iran if Israel decides to do so and Iran retaliates. That is a warmonger's pledge if ever there was one. And it's disagraceful.

••• •••

Here is Bernadette Meehan's full statement:

 

This bill is in direct contradiction to the Administration’s work to peacefully resolve the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program. We know that this proposed legislation would divide the international community, drive the Iranians to take a harder line, and possibly end negotiations. This bill would have a negative bearing on the sanctions regime too. Let us not forget: sanctions work because we convinced our partners to take the steps that we seek. If our partners no longer believe that we are serious about finding a negotiated solution, then our sanctions regime would suffer.

If Congress passes this bill, it will be proactively taking an action that will make diplomacy less likely to succeed. The American people have been clear that they prefer a peaceful resolution to this issue. If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.

The President has been clear that he has a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means, before he pursues alternatives. Passing new sanctions legislation right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 10:58 AM PST.

Also republished by Maryland Kos, Adalah — A Just Middle East, and Daily Kos.

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