March 26, 2009

NIAC EXCLUSIVE: Congress to introduce bipartisan “Incidents-at-Sea” resolution

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY) will introduce a resolution this morning next week calling for the US military to negotiate an agreement with Iran for the prevention of incidents in the Persian Gulf.  This resolution, intended to protect American ships and sailors operating in harm’s way, is the first bipartisan call for direct dialogue with Iran to come out of this Congress.
Talk of a bilateral agreement on naval protocol with Iran began to surface after the incident in January of last year, when Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats harassed three American Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf.  The speedboats took provocative action in close proximity to the American ships, which very nearly opened fire.
Then, as well as now, an accidental clash between the US and IRGC navies could have sparked a full-scale war, with catastrophic consequences for regional stability, American national security, and the global economy.  Forty percent of the world’s oil is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz, making any military clash in that strategic body of water extremely costly.  Additionally, a third war in the Middle East would place considerable strain on the US military, which is already universally recognized as being stretched thin.
Many prominent military officials have called for the negotiation of a naval protocol to govern US and Iranian operations in the Gulf, drawing on a similar agreement between the US and the Soviet Union signed in 1972.  Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, formerly the Commander of Naval Operations, US Central Command, pushed openly for the Bush Administration to begin talks with Iran for just such an agreement.
Many historians consider the US-Soviet agreement as one contributing factor to the absence of overt military conflict during the Cold War.
With President Obama’s promise to engage Iran directly on a wide range of areas of concern, this resolution provides an opportunity for Congressional leaders to weigh in on the Iran issue at a critical time.  While there has been no shortage of Iranspecific legislation (most of it very aggressive) coming from both sides of the aisle, the US Congress is yet to pass a resolution expressing support for diplomatic engagement with Iran in any form.
Given the non-controversial nature of this particular resolution–which is intended above all to strengthen our national security and protect our sailors in harm’s way–this is perhaps the best opportunity for Congress to express bipartisan support for direct engagement with Iran.

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