Friday, January 04, 2008

Congress and Iran: 2007 in Review and 2008 Outlook

Congress devoted a significant amount of time and attention to Iran in 2007, a country that has proven to be a significant foreign policy challenge to the United States. By and large, Congress focused its efforts on hyping the threat from Iran and greasing the skids for the Bush administration to employ stronger punitive measures to coerce Iran into compliance with demands for an end to the country’s nuclear enrichment program.

Despite warnings from experts and key Iranian dissidents including Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi, Congress approved funding for a controversial program to “promote democracy” inside Iran. The House also passed several measures to expand economic sanctions against Iran and enable a growing divestment movement. These measures still await Senate debate in 2008 and it is unclear if they will become public law. Congress also pressed for the Administration to label the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp and its elite Quds force as terrorist organizations.

On the positive front, growing concern over a potential conflict with Iran led many members of Congress to introduce resolutions that would reinforce Congressional war-making authority. None of the resolutions, however, ever came to a stand alone vote in 2007. It is uncertain whether any will in 2008.

Below is a summary of all major Congressional actions on Iran in 2007.


Iran Provisions in the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill

On December 19, 2007, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill which included the consolidated State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008. The bill provides for $60 million to be made available for “programs to promote democracy, the rule of law and governance in Iran.” The explanatory statement accompanying the bill specifies only two numbers with respect to Iran: $21.8 million for Economic Support Funds (ESF); and $8 million for the Democracy Fund. The remainder of the $60 million is embedded in other accounts and amounts are not specified. The final appropriation was nearly halved from President Bush’s February 2007 budget request of $108.71 million, including $75 million for Economic Support Funds (ESF), $28.21 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Voice of America - Persian and Radio Farda programs and $5.5 million in Diplomatic and Consular Program (D&CP) funds. The Bush administration is likely to again request funds for the fiscal year 2009 budget, which will be presented to Congress in February 2008.

Iran Provisions in the Defense Authorization Bill

The Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Act includes a provision the which states that it is the “Sense of Congress” that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be designated as a foreign terrorist organization and placed on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists established by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The provision was inserted following the passage of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment. However, the provision also strongly endorses “the administration’s pursuit of a diplomatic approach to address this Iranian threat.”

The Defense Authorization bill also includes a provision based on H.R. 885, which was passed by the House in June, to designate $50 million to support the establishment of an international nuclear fuel bank under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The measure was introduced by Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), primarily to prevent Iran and other countries from developing their own indigenous nuclear fuel cycle technology and instead force the countries to rely on international sources.

House and Senate Conferees of the FY ‘08 Defense Authorization Bill agreed to drop a provision in the Senate version of the bill that would have prohibited not more than 75 percent of the amount authorized from being obligated until the President submitted a report on policy objectives and United States Strategy regarding Iran. Of particular note, the Conference Report of the FY ’08 Defense Authorization bill states that the report was submitted. According to a senior congressional aide, the Bush administration did submit the report in Summer 2007 after they had seen the provision in the Senate version of the Defense Authorization bill. The senior congressional aide also said that the report, presumably drafted by the State Department, had an early 2007 date on it but seemed to have been sitting collecting dust until the administration decided to send it to Congress. The senior congressional aide said it was possible that after the State Department drafted the report, the Office of the Vice President or perhaps someone else refused to clear it because of language about a commitment to diplomacy. There is only a classified version and Congress has not pursued insisting on an unclassified version because the whole exercise was "frustrating and the report was not particularly long or substantive, and we got pulled on to other things."

The FY ‘08 Defense Authorization bill requires that the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, submit to the Congressional Defense Committees a report describing and assessing in detail Iran’s role in Iraq. The report must be submitted within 60 days after the date of the enactment and every 180 days thereafter. It also provides that the reporting requirement will terminate when the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, certifies to the congressional defense committees that Iran has ceased to provide military support to anti-coalition forces in Iraq.

The Defense Authorization bill also includes a provision stating it is the policy of the United States to develop and deploy in conjunction with its allies and other nations an effective defense against Iranian ballistic missiles. The provision was added to the Senate version on July 12, when the Senate voted 90 to 5 to pass Amendment No. 2024 introduced by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL). It should be noted, however, that Congress cut out $85 million in construction funding for the new missile defense sites in Europe from the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Appropriations bill. For Fiscal Year 2009, it likely that the Iranian ballistic missile threat will continue to be the justification for building a missile defense site in Eastern Europe and funds will once again be requested for developing and deploying such a system.

The House version of the FY ‘08 Defense Authorization also contained a provision which would have prohibited the Department of Defense from procuring goods or services from companies in violation of the Iran-Syria Nonproliferation Act (Public Law 106–178; 50 U.S.C. 1701). However, the FY ’08 Defense Authorization Act Conference Report refused to blacklist violators of the Iran-Syria Nonproliferation Act.


Congressional Resolutions on War-Making Authority

Heightened concern over a potential conflict with Iran and the possibility that the Bush administration may construe an authorization for use of force against Iran prompted several members of Congress to introduce resolutions on war-making authority in 2007.

On January 12, Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Jack Murtha (D-PA) introduced H.J. Res. 14 requiring Congressional authorization prior to a military attack on Iran, absent a national emergency created by an attack by Iran. The resolution currently has 66 co-sponsors. It is unclear whether the co-sponsors will try to introduce it as an amendment to must-pass legislation in 2008 and also unclear if it will come up for a vote as a stand alone measure.

On January 24, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced S.Res.39 expressing the sense of the Senate on the need for approval by the Congress before any offensive military action by the United States against another nation. Though the resolution does not specifically mention Iran, it is meant to prevent a military conflict without prior Congressional approval. Senator Byrd introduced the resolution as amendments to several must-pass bills in 2007, but none of the amendments ever came to a vote on the floor.

Representative Barbara Lee introduced H.R. 770 on January 31 to prohibit the use of funds to carry out any covert action for the purpose of causing regime change in Iran or to carry out any military action against Iran in the absence of an imminent threat, in accordance with international law and constitutional and statutory requirements for congressional authorization. It was subsequently referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, and Intelligence. The resolution currently has 19 co-sponsors and unclear if it will come up for a vote in 2008.

On February 5, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced H.Con.Res. 43 which expresses the sense of Congress that the President should implement Recommendation 9 of the Iraq Study Group Report and engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues. The resolution currently has 12 co-sponsors. It is unclear whether the co-sponsors will try to introduce it as an amendment to must-pass legislation in 2008 and also unclear if it will come up for a vote as a stand alone measure.

On February 15, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) introduced S.Con.Res. 13, which expresses the sense of Congress that the President should not initiate military action against Iran without first obtaining authorization from Congress. Senator Sanders made several attempts to introduce his resolution as an amendment to must-pass legislation in 2007, but no amendments ever came to a vote.

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced S. 759 on March 5 to prohibit the use of funds for military operations in Iran without Congressional authorization. It currently has three co-sponsors. On July 19, Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced H.R. 3119, the House companion legislation to Senator Jim Webb’s S. 759. The bill currently has 27 co-sponsors. It is unclear whether the co-sponsors will try to introduce the bill as an amendment to must-pass legislation in 2008 and also unclear if it will come up for a vote as a stand alone measure.

On October 25, Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and Ron Paul (R-TX) and Bill Delahunt (D-MA) announced H. J. Res. 53, a bill to restore the constitutional checks and balances over declaring war. Although the bill does not specifically mention Iran, it is clearly meant to reassert the Congressional war-making power to prevent such a conflict.

On October 25, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. Res. 356, which currently has 13 co-sponsors, more than any other Senate resolution on preventing war with Iran. Current co-sponsors are: Akaka, Bingaman, Brown, Byrd, Clinton, Dodd, Dorgan, Feinstein, Johnson, Murray, Sanders, Stabenow and Whitehouse. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, but the Senators may look for other opportunities in 2008 to introduce it to must pass legislation. Senator Durbin’s goal is to attract a large group of co-sponsors in order to make it clear that many Senators are wary of a military conflict with Iran, at least not without prior Congressional approval.

Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) introduced S.J.Res. 23 on November 2 to clarify that the use of force against Iran is “not authorized by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq, any resolution previously adopted, or any other provision of law.” The resolution was subsequently referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations and it does not have any co-sponsors. Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) introduced the House companion legislation, H.J.Res. 64. It was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and currently has 16 co-sponsors. Neither resolution is likely to come up for a vote in 2008.

Following the passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill expressing the sense of Senate that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps should be labeled a terrorist organization, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) initiated and sent a letter to Bush signed by 30 senators emphasizing “that no offensive military action would be justified against Iran without the express consent of Congress.” Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) sent a personal letter to Bush on October 17 embracing a more comprehensive approach, urging the president to “offer direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with Iran.”


Sanctions and Divestment Bills

Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced H.R. 2880 to enhance the Iran Sanctions Act by expanding economic sanctions against Iran to include the importation of refined petroleum. The bill has currently has 34 co-sponsors and has been referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means. It is unclear whether the resolution will come up for a vote in 2008.

On July 31, the House passed H.R. 957 by a vote of 415-11. The resolution adds to the list of those that can be sanctioned for making investments that increase Iran's ability to develop it petroleum resources.

On July 31, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2347, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, by a vote of 408-6, despite opposition from the Secretaries of State and Treasury. The bill will establish a federal list of companies that have direct investments in Iran’s energy sector and remove specific legal barriers to enable mutual fund and corporate pension fund managers to cut ties with these listed companies if they choose to do so. The bill also provides federal authority for state and local governments that choose to divest their public pension funds and calls on the U.S. government to list companies with more than $20 million invested in Iran's energy sector. The Senate companion bill, S. 1430, was introduced by Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) and subsequently referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. It is unclear whether it will come up for a vote in 2008, but there are forces pushing for its passage.

On September 25, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, H.R. 1400, was voted on Suspension and passed 397-16. Four Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against the measure, with 20 Members not voting. It should be noted that during the floor debate of the bill, not a single Member of Congress stood up to speak in opposition of the bill. Though the bill expresses that it is the Sense of Congress that "the United States should use diplomatic and economic means to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem," the bill focuses on imposing broader unilateral sanctions without calling for the implementation of a more comprehensive diplomatic strategy for resolving all outstanding issues with Iran. In other words, the bill focuses on employing bigger "sticks" in dealing with Iran rather than embracing a comprehensive approach.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced H.Con.Res. 257 on November 13. The resolution expresses concern regarding arms transfers to Iran and Syria by the Russian Federation and entities in the Russian Federation and urges the President to implement sanctions against such entities found to be in violation of United States law prohibiting arms transfers to both countries. The resolution was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. It currently has 7 co-sponsors. It is likely that Rep. Ros-Lehtinen will push for a vote on the resolution in 2008.

Human Rights and Iran

On September 25, H.R.3653, sponsored by Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL), to hold the current regime in Iran accountable for its human rights record and to support a transition to democracy in Iran, was introduced and referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill makes a direct link "between the state of freedom and democracy within Iran and the efforts of the current regime of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and the long-term success of the global war on terror." Senator Brownback (R-KS) introduced the Senate version of the bill, S. 1534, on May 25, 2007 and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

On October 3, H.Con.Res.203, which condemns the persecution of labor rights advocates in Iran, was voted on under Suspension of the Rules and passed 418-1. The resolution was then referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. It is unclear whether the resolution will come to a vote in the Senate in 2009.


Miscellaneous Congressional Resolutions Taking a Hard Line on Iran

On January 25, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S. 387, a bill to prohibit the sale by the Department of Defense of parts for F-14 fighter aircraft. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) introduced the House companion legislation, H.R. 1441 on March 6. The House passed the resolution on June 11 and it was referred back to the Senate Committee on Armed Services. The bill is unlikely to come up for a vote in the Senate in 2008.

Representative Jim Saxton introduced H.R. 1324 on March 5 to urge the Secretary of State to designate the Quds Force, a unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as a foreign terrorist organization. The resolution has 12 co-sponsors, but it is unlikely to come up for a vote in 2008 following the announcement on October 25 by the Departments of State and Treasury of their decision to label the Quds force a terrorist organization as part of an unprecedented package of sanctions.

Following the Iranian capture of British soldiers in the Shatt al Arab waterway on March 23, the House passed H.Res. 267 on March 27 which condemned the seizure and called for the immediate, safe, and unconditional release of the soldiers. The Senate passed a similar resolution, S.Res. 136, on March 29

On May 24, the Senate passed S.Res. 214, a resolution calling for the immediate release of Iranian-American scholar Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, who had been detained by the government of Iran since December 2006. On June 5, the House passed a similar resolution, H.Res. 430 by a vote of 411-0. The resolution called on the government of Iran to immediately and unconditionally release not only Dr. Esfandiari but all five dual Iranian-American citizens including Ms. Parnaz Azima, Mr. Kian Tajbakhsh, Mr. Ali Shakeri, and a fifth unnamed individual, all of whom had been detained by the Iranian government under charges of violating national security. The Iranian government detained the individuals because of a growing fear of the prospect of a “velvet revolution” funded by the U.S. through the so-called democracy assistance program. All of the individuals were released from prison by September.

On June 20, the House passed H.Con.Res.21 by a vote of 411-2. The resolution calls on the United Nations Security Council to charge Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and United Nations Charter because of his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. The resolution was subsequently sent to the Senate and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. It is unlikely to come up for a vote in the Senate in 2008.

On September 27, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced H.Res.690 and the bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The resolution expresses the grave concern of the House of Representatives for Iran and Syria's continued and systematic violations of UN Resolutions 1701 and 1559. This bill expresses concern over Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon, particularly in supporting Hezbollah, and calls on Hezbollah to release the Israeli soldiers and for all militias in Lebanon to disband. It expresses "its vigorous support for a democratic Lebanon."

On October 16, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced H.Con.Res. 235, a resolution which “urges the Board of Directors of the World Bank to request a policy review of current disbursements to the Islamic Republic of Iran and to end these disbursements until the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies the compliance of Iran with resolutions 1696 and 1747 of the United Nations Security Council and the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” The resolution also urges “the United Nations Security Council to order the World Bank to end disbursements to Iran if the Board of Directors of the World Bank fails to take action on its own.” The resolution has 46 co-sponsors and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Financial Services. The resolution may come up for a vote in 2009.

On November 5, after only five minutes of debate and not a single member of Congress questioning or speaking in opposition, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted by voice vote H. RES. 435, “Expressing concern relating to the threatening behavior of the Iranian regime and its leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the activities of terrorist organizations sponsored by that regime in Latin America.” The resolution was introduced by Rep. Rob Klein (R-FL) and had 43 co-sponsors when it came up for a vote under the suspension of the rules.


What to Expect in 2008

In August, the Bush Administration announced its intention to sell up to $20 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries and justified the move in part as way to protect allies in the region from a “growing Iranian threat.” Such a deal must be approved by Congress and it has the authority to block major arms sales by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. Several House members, including Nadler (D-NY), Weiner (D-NY), Engel (D-NY) Woolsey (D-CA), Lee (D-CA) and Ferguson (R-NY) announced their intention to try to block the sale, but so far Congress has not yet taken up the issue. It is possible they could do so, however, in 2008.

It is likely that Congress will continue to press for further unilateral sanctions on Iran. All of the sanctions bills passed by the House in 2007 still await Senate approval before they can become law. Expect to also see new resolutions that would further expand existing sanctions.

Congress and the Bush administration will also likely continue hyping the threat of the Iranian ballistic missile program and use it as a justification for developing and deploying a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Though the funding was cut for Fiscal Year 2008, the Administration will more than likely request it for 2009 and some members of Congress will work to ensure it remains in the Defense Appropriations bill.

The release of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in December gave impetus to a growing movement of members of Congress calling on the Bush administration to pursue sustained, direct, unconditional diplomacy with Iran. Congressional efforts in this area should be bolstered as it has been the key missing strategy for resolving tensions with Iran.

2 comments:

Lotf Ali said...

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colette said...

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