In a significant and highly unusual defeat for
the so-called "Israel Lobby," the Democratic leadership of the House
of Representatives has decided to shelve a long-pending, albeit nonbinding,
resolution that called for President George W. Bush to launch what critics called
a blockade against Iran.
House Congressional Resolution (HR) 362, whose passage the powerful American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had made its top legislative priority
this year, had been poised to pass virtually by acclamation last summer.
But an unexpectedly strong lobbying effort by a number of grassroots Iranian-American,
Jewish-American, peace, and church groups effectively derailed the initiative,
although AIPAC and its supporters said they would try to revive it next year
or if Congress returns to Washington for a "lame-duck" session after
the November elections.
Congress, which may still adopt a package of new unilateral economic sanctions
against Iran some of which the administration has already imposed over
the weekend, is expected to adjourn over the next several days.
''We'll resubmit it when Congress comes back, and we'll have even more signatures,''
the resolution's main author, New York Democrat Rep. Gary Ackerman, told the
Washington Times, adding that the resolution currently has 270 co-sponsors,
or some two-thirds of the House's entire membership.
Still, the decision by the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,
Rep. Howard Berman, to shelve HR 362 marked an unusual defeat for AIPAC, according
to its critics who charged that the resolution was designed to lay the groundwork
for the Bush administration or any successor administration to take military
action against Iran.
"This was a joint effort by several groups to really put the focus on
the dangers presented by such a resolution over the opposition of one of the
most powerful lobbies in the country," said Trita Parsi, president of the
National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
Among other provisions, the resolution declared that preventing Iran from acquiring
a nuclear weapons capacity was "vital to the national security interests
of the United States" language that is normally used to justify military
action and "demand(ed) 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..."
Among the means it called for were "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."
Although the resolution's sponsors explicitly denied it indeed, one
clause stated that "nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an
authorization of the use of force against Iran" the resolution's
critics charged that the latter passage could be used to justify a blockade
against Iran, an act of war under international law.
"Ambiguity in the text of the resolution whether intended by its drafters
or not has led some to see it as a de-facto approval for a land, air and
sea blockade of Iran, any of which could be considered an act of war,"
according to Deborah DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now (APN), a Zionist
group that has long urged the administration to engage in direct talks with
Tehran and that lobbied against the resolution.
Two key Democratic congressmen, who had initially co-sponsored the resolution,
Reps. Robert Wexler and Barney Frank, unexpectedly defected in July, insisting
that its language be changed to exclude any possibility that it could be used
to justify war against Iran and to include new provisions urging Washington
to directly engage Tehran.
The resolution was introduced last May, shortly after AIPAC's annual meeting
during which then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly told the House
Democratic leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Berman, and Ackerman
that economic sanctions against Iran had run their course and that stronger
action, including a possible naval quarantine, was needed to increase pressure
on Tehran to halt its nuclear program.
The meeting also followed talks between Olmert and Bush who, despite an strongly
hawkish speech before Israel's Knesset, privately told his hosts that Washington
would almost certainly not attack on Iranian nuclear facilities nor give a green
light Israel to launch an attack of its own before he leaves office in January
2009, according to a recent account by London's Guardian newspaper. The
administration itself never took a position on the resolution.
At the time, the price of oil was skyrocketing, and the military brass in the
Pentagon, increasingly concerned about the deteriorating situations in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, was expressing its opposition to military action against Iran
in unusually blunt terms.
Nonetheless, AIPAC pushed hard for adoption of the resolution, even as it,
like its Congressional sponsors, insisted that it was not designed to justify
Just last week, in a final push for the resolution's passage, AIPAC drafted
a letter that was circulated to House members who had not yet co-sponsored the
resolution. While it denounced as "utter nonsense" suggestions that
the resolution could be used to justify military action, the text also stressed
that Tehran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony" posed
"real and growing" threats to "the vital national security interests
of the United States."
AIPAC's failure was particularly notable given the presence at the UN General
Assembly in New York this week of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose
repeated and predictably provocative predictions about the demise of Israel
and "the American empire" have been used routinely by AIPAC to rally
public and elite opinion against Tehran and underline the threat it allegedly
In announcing that the resolution has been shelved, Berman said he shared critics'
concerns about the resolution's wording and will not bring it before his committee
until his concerns were addressed. "If Congress is to make a statement
of policy, it should encompass a strategy on how to gain consensus on multilateral
sanctions to change Iran's behavior,'' his spokesperson told the Times.
(Inter Press Service)