Washington D.C – The Congressman responsible for several pushes for military action against Iran is now leading an effort to ensure that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is given Congressional platform to oppose the Iran nuclear talks.
Representative Trent Franks, who has introduced legislation authorizing war against Iran, condemning the nuclear talks and insisting on outlandish demands, and demanding Congress hold a veto over any final nuclear deal, is now circulating a letter in support of a Netanyahu’s planned address before Congress.
House Speaker John Boehner, facing backlash for his controversial invitation to bring Netanyahu to Congress just weeks before Israeli elections and in the midst of a domestic standoff over Iran sanctions, may not see much benefit from Franks’ effort. Already, those opposing the talks and supporting the Netanyahu visit have faced criticism that they prefer a war over a nuclear deal; gaining the backing of those in Congress who overtly pro-war only reinforces that criticism.
The White House has called the invite a “breach of protocol.” American officials, military leaders, and members of Congress have warned the invitation is a dangerous and perhaps unconstitutional attempt to undermine a sitting U.S. President. Netanyahu is expected to use the planned March 3rd speech to promote new sanctions that the White House has threatened to veto and which diplomats involved in the nuclear negotiations say would torpedo the talks.
“Two decades ago…Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, warning of the danger that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and sponsorship of terrorism posed to world security,” reads the Franks letter, which is also being led by Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Lance Leonard (R-NJ). “Four years ago, the Prime Minister was here with the same message. Unfortunately his warnings went unheeded, and now – after continuing negotiations have failed to produce tangible results – Iran is closer than ever to obtaining nuclear weapons, while its terrorist proxies are operating unhindered, sowing chaos across the Middle East.”
The Franks letter comes on the heels of a different Congressional letter urging Boehner to postpone the speech until after the Israeli elections and the deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran. “As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the President,” write Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN), Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). Their letter, which is still being circulated for signatures says that Boehner’s invitation “has the potential to harm U.S. foreign policy” and “appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran.”
For Franks, however, undermining the negotiations has been precisely the point. Like Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), who has said explicitly that he supports new sanctions because they would kill the Iran talks, Franks has been forthcoming about his intentions. In addition to his past attempts to press for war with Iran, he has also helped lead Congressional efforts to condemn the negotiations and to pledge U.S. backing if Israel decides to launch military strikes against Iran. Franks is also a vocal supporter of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a controversial Iranian exile group that advocates armed resistance against Iran and was listed as a terrorist organization until 2012.
As it stands, Netanyahu’s speech will proceed as planned. But as the two Congressional letters remain in circulation, some members of the House and Senate have begun issuing statements opposing the speech and indicating they will not attend if the address moves forward. Vice President Joe Biden has been noncommittal as to whether he will attend the session, as is customary, and the White House has made clear that the President and Cabinet officials will not meet with Netanyahu. By the time March 3rd comes, instead of his typical visit to the White House and bipartisan reception, Netanyahu may have to settle for a meeting with Trent Franks and his allies in the pro-war camp.
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