April 21, 2011

New Legislation Targets Iranian Civilian Flights

When President Obama told Iranians this past Norooz, “though times may seem dark, I am with you,” NIAC presented several small but significant steps the President could take to support a brighter future for the Iranian people.
Meanwhile, Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) was busy working on legislation to turn out the lights on hopes of building goodwill between the U.S. and ordinary Iranians.
On Friday, Sherman unveiled the fruits of his labor—H.R. 1655, a bill that would strip the President’s authority to allow civilian aircraft parts and repairs to be sent into Iran to prevent humanitarian tragedy.
Send a letter to your Representative in Congress to tell them to oppose H.R. 1655

Flying is already a dangerous affair for Iranians, thanks in part to a U.S. embargo that has left the country’s civilian aviation fleet in disrepair.  In the past decade, over 1,000 people have been killed in at least fifteen plane crashes in Iran, including seventy-seven passengers who were killed just three months ago in a Boeing 727 crash.

But for Sherman, these tragedies represent an opportunity.
Under current law, the President may bypass the embargo on a case-by-case basis to allow the sale of parts and repairs for Iranian civilian.  This humanitarian waiver has been used only once, by President Bush in 2006.
But on March 16, President Obama notified Congress that he would use this authority to allow Iran to repair fifteen General Motors engines used in civilian planes that were recently deemed a safety risk by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Sherman responded almost immediately, sending a letter with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) condemning the move and calling for the President to pull the plug.  According to Sherman, the U.S. should not allow repairs for Iranian civilian planes “until Tehran grounds its nuclear weapons program.”
Leveraging human suffering against an Iranian government that continues to abuse the human rights of its own people is unlikely to change Tehran’s calculus regarding its nuclear program.   But using Iranians as pawns in a dispute with Iran’s government is likely to diminish the United States’ standing among the Iranian people.
Given Sherman’s stated belief that sanctions should punish ordinary Iranians, and his dismissal of warnings from Green Movement leaders that such measures hurt the democracy movement and help hardliners in Iran’s government, H.R. 1655 should come as no surprise.
Unfortunately, Sherman is not a lone voice in Washington.  Five Members of Congress, two Republicans and three Democrats, are original cosponsors of H.R. 1655.  And while Ros-Lehtinen declined to sign-on to Sherman’s bill, she is reportedly working to advance her own sanctions legislation that may also revoke Obama’s humanitarian waiver.
Meanwhile, Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) claimed last week that the way to support the Iranian people is through increased sanctions, arguing that Iranians “will be more inclined to suffer the consequences” of sanctions if the U.S. says they are meant to “assist” them.
Now, if Sherman gets his way, those consequences will likely include more airplane accidents and civilian deaths in Iran.  The President should focus on building goodwill with Iranians and reject shameful proposals to make the U.S. complicit in such tragedies.
Write your Representative in Congress to tell them not to target Iranian civilian airplanes and to oppose H.R. 1655

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