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May 23, 2014

Some in House Press for War in the “Arabian Gulf”

capitol-darkWashington, DC – Congressional hawks succeeded this week in passing an annual defense policy bill that included language calling for new terms for nuclear negotiations with Iran. The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), also calls the U.S. provide Israel necessary armaments to strike Iran. 

Though nonbinding, the controversial sections of the bill urge for the U.S. to insist that a final nuclear deal must dismantle Iran’s nuclear program in its entirety, end Iranian support for terrorism, and even force Iran to give up certain conventional weapons programs. Many of the demands would directly contradict the terms already agreed to by the U.S., Iran, and the other the negotiating countries. The language was inserted by Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Trent Franks (R-NJ), both of whom are sponsors of existing legislation authorizing the President to begin war with Iran. 

The language was approved with only modest pushback, likely because it does not carry the force of law. Pro-diplomacy members in the House did widely regard the language as political posturing aimed at undermining the nuclear negotiations.

Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, conveyed strong opposition to the language, saying such a position could tie the hands of negotiators and cost the U.S. a nuclear deal. “We should work as hard as possible to stop Iran from sponsoring terrorism, from developing ballistic missiles, and from building nuclear weapons, no doubt about that,” Smith said. “But what is on the table right now is stopping their nuclear weapons program.  And to say, unless we get all three, we will take none, is what I disagree with.”

Separate language in the bill, inserted by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN), states that it is the policy of the United States to “take all necessary steps to ensure that Israel possesses and maintains an independent capability to remove existential threats to its security and defend its vital national interests.”  The amendment urges the administration to provide Israel with bunker-buster munitions and air refueling tankers, which would be necessary to wage airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) warned that the language sought to “assign to Israel the job of starting what could become World War III—even the Bush-Cheney Administration rejected that approach.” 

Doggett, who earlier this year helped lead pro-diplomacy efforts in the House with a letter signed by over 100 Congressmen, chastised the apparently pro-war sentiment of some of his colleagues. “Our arsenal of democracy includes more than bombs,” he said in a speech on the House floor. “Iranian Revolutionary Guard hardliners may ultimately doom these negotiations, our responsibility is to ensure that hardliners here don’t do the obstruction for them.”

The House NDAA also refers to efforts to deter Iran in the “Arabian Gulf”, replacing the historical Persian Gulf with a divisive term that has been employed by the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as propaganda to mobilize against Iranians.  While last year’s House version of the NDAA also utilized the “Arabian Gulf” term, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) strongly opposed the language and worked to help ensure the final version that was signed into law did not include reference to the propaganda term.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is currently considering its own version of the bill, and the body has often stripped out harmful non-binding language inserted by hawks in the House.  “Given the high cost of failure, we certainly cannot afford to surrender to defeatists, who capitulate on the negotiations before they are even completed,” said Doggett. “It is too soon to wave the white flag and give up in favor of war.”

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