Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Prospects for H.Con.Res. 362 and S.Res. 580

Across the country, organizations and community groups have mobilized opposition to H.Con.Res. 362, a controversial non-binding resolution calling for more punitive measures against Iran. The combined efforts of all of the organizations and individuals have successfully put speed bumps on the road for a resolution that staff from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office initially said would “pass like a hot knife through butter” before the 4th of July recess. So far, four Representatives – Tom Allen, Steve Cohen, Danny K. Davis and William Lacy Clay – have withdrawn support. Several others, including Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA), Mike McNulty (D-NY), Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Robert Wexler (D-FL) have expressed that they may do so if language is not changed.

It is no small feat getting Members of Congress to change their co-sponsorship on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) supported resolution, particularly in an election year. Perhaps most importantly though, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) has refused so far to markup the resolution in his committee because of the controversy that has been raised regarding Clause 3, which “demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program.” Critics have argued that depending on interpretation and implementation, this paragraph could be considered as calling for a blockade against Iran, which would be considered an act of war under international law.

While many have focused their critique of the resolution on Clause 3, even if this clause is changed or removed, the remainder of the resolution is still provocative and sends the wrong signal to Iran and to the Bush administration that Congress supports a more belligerent policy and, potentially, belligerent actions against, Iran. On the whole, the resolution is simply more of the same wrong-headed approach to dealing with Iran. It calls for more punitive measures without any incentives. Most importantly, H.Con.Res. 362 does not call for what is desperately needed now - direct, sustained, comprehensive negotiations without preconditions.

Meanwhile, Representatives Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Mike Pence (R-IN), the original co-sponsors of H.Con.Res. 362, continue to defend the resolution. The number of Members co-sponsoring the resolution has crept up to the current total of 261. If it reaches 290 (or 2/3 of the total number of Members of Congress), Rep. Ackerman can request that the resolution be brought up for a vote on the Suspension Calendar. If this were to happen, no amendments could be offered to the resolution. However, Rep. Ackerman has backed himself into a corner by refusing so far to make changes to the language in the resolution and as a result H.Con.Res. 362 will likely remain held-up for the foreseeable future.

The most realistic scenario for breaking the stand-off in the House would be for the Senate to take up the companion resolution to H.Con.Res. 362. Although just as provocative, the Senate version, S.Res. 580, is worded in a slightly different way and does not contain the clause that most critics of H.Con.Res. 362 have gone after which could be interpreted as calling for a blockade against Iran. The third paragraph in S.Res. 580 does not demand a "stringent inspections regime," but "demands that the President lead an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the pressure on the Government of Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, among other measures, banning the importation of refined petroleum products to Iran.”

Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), the original sponsor of S.Res. 580 is putting pressure to move the resolution forward. On July 31, Senator Bayh's staff circulated an email to all of the co-sponsors of the resolution asking them to sign off on changes to make the the resolution less controversial and thus help it move forward. In the email, Senator Bayh's staff writes:

"As you know, your boss is a cosponsor of S. Res. 580. While we are working with leadership and SFRC to move the bill, we are aware that it has several fixes that need to be made. Among them are two that we need your boss’ ok on before proceeding.
1) On page 6 line 5, strike 'importation' and insert in its place 'exportation'.
2) On page 6 line 5, strike 'banning' and insert in its place 'encouraging foreign governments to ban'.

"These revisions will not change the resolution’s intent, nor would they change the tenor of the bill. They are simply technical fixes we’d like to make if we’re able.

"We’d like to do this without reintroducing the bill, either on the floor or with SFRC assistance. "

If S.Res. 580 is either attached as an amendment to must-pass legislation (more likely) or brought to the Senate floor as a stand-alone measure (less likely), and it passes, the House could then take up the Senate version. The reality, however, is that Congress has an extremely full plate in September leading up to the elections and this is not a guaranteed scenario. Nonetheless, it is still urgent for organizations and individuals remain vigilant on both resolutions and to continue to weigh in with their Senators and Representatives.

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