2C: the FCNL Staff Blog

End of "Brown Rice Diplomacy" with Iran?

By Kate Gould on 12/08/2011 @ 11:40 AM

Tags: Iran, Middle East

Kate Gould

As speculation mounts that a covert war with Iran is already well underway, the House is expected to vote Tuesday on a bill that could sabotage diplomacy with Iran, increasing the threat of war. You can make a difference TODAY. Call your representative at: 1-877-429-0678 and tell them to oppose H.R. 1905.

Ironically, the House is trying to criminalize diplomacy with Iran before sustained talks with Iran have been tried. More than eighty-percent of Congress has signed on to the bill, though most members cosponsored before this anti-diplomacy provision was added. 

Even without the anti-diplomacy provision, passage of this legislation would be an extraordinary setback to diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program because it would inflict yet another round of economic warfare. However, even in lobby visits with congressional offices who support new, broad sanctions against Iran, I've found that many members of Congress are particularly alarmed about this anti-diplomacy provision because it could sabotage prospects for a peaceful resolution over Iran's nuclear program, increasing the threat of war. 

As veteran Iran expert Barbara Slavin eloquently explained in a recent panel discussion at the Israel Policy Forum, under the Obama administration, the U.S. has only tried 45 minutes of direct, one-to-one talks with an Iranian official, according to public reports. In the fall of 2009, then Undersecretary of State Bill Burns met one-on-one with Iran's nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili for a grand total of 45 minutes in Geneva. This was the first meeting of its kind for 30 years!

In other words, the U.S. and Iran have spent the same amount of time in official, one-to-one diplomacy as it takes to cook brown rice. The House Iran sanctions bill (H.R. 1905) could mark the end of even "brown rice" diplomacy with Iran, because of the chilling effect that prohibiting any contact between any U.S. government employee and certain Iranian officials would have. While the bill doesn't outlaw all diplomacy with Iran, by prohibiting contact with any Iranian official who "presents a threat to the United States", it is designed to outlaw diplomacy with adversaries of the U.S.--the most important kind of diplomacy of all.

As Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan pointed out, "If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies." Because the bill strikes at the very heart of peaceful resolution of conflict with adversaries, this restriction on diplomatic contact has sparked a firestorm of criticism from former ambassadors, national security analysts, and other experts

Also, FCNL initiated a letter to Congress with 25 leading Jewish-American, arms control, human rights, democracy, and pro-peace organizations signing on, asking members of Congress to oppose this restriction on diplomatic contact with Iran.

Diplomacy with people and countries who "present a security threat" is precisely what saves lives and prevents war. President Kennedy's decision to talk with the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis saved countless lives as a result. At a time when mysterious explosions, cyber attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities and a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists have rocked Iran, it has become more urgent than ever for sustained diplomatic intervention to prevent the escalation of these ongoing attacks into a full-fledged war.

Senate Passes “Nuclear Option” Against Iran’s Economy

The momentum in the House follows the Senate’s unanimous passage of the Kirk-Menendez legislation that would require sanctions against any country or company that does business with the Central Bank of Iran. While the administration has vociferously opposed sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and urged the Senate to vote against the Kirk-Menendez amendment, the legislation passed by a 100-0 vote as an amendment to the military authorization bill.

Some U.S. officials have called sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank the “nuclear option” against Iran’s economy because of the dire consequences it could have for the U.S. and global economy—to say nothing of the untold humanitarian consequences it would cause in Iran. Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner warned that the measure “could have the opposite effect from what is intended and increase the Iranian regime’s revenue, literally fueling their suspect nuclear ambitions”.

This week, the Obama administration sent Congress a list of requested changes to slightly water down the Central Bank sanctions legislation that passed the Senate.  The administration has asked Congress to allow more time and flexibility to implement these sweeping sanctions.  The administration has also asked to limit the harshest sanctions to those countries and companies involved in buying oil from Iran rather than sanctions against all countries or companies or do business of any kind with Iran's Central Bank. 

In response, Senators Mark Kirk (IL) and Robert Menedez (NJ) wrote a letter to Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Buck Mc-Keon (CA) and ranking member Representative Adam Smith (WA), opposing any changes to the Senate’s legislation.

As Josh Rogin from The Cable reported, “If the Kirk-Menendez language is sent to the president without any alterations, he will be forced to either accept it or veto the entire defense authorization bill. There's no indication yet which way he would go."

House Bill Threatens to Sabotage Diplomacy, Tighten the Screws on Senate's "Nuclear Option" Bill

While the U.S. has imposed sanctions for more than three decades against Iran, the latest congressional action marks a radical escalation of the long-standing “all-stick, no-carrot” U.S. approach towards Iran. Some Iranian officials have interpreted such sanctions as an act of war, and it’s precisely this scale of economic warfare that paved the way for war with Iraq.

The House bill (H.R. 1905) would also require locking any country or company that does business with Iran’s Central Bank out of the U.S. financial system. This sanctions amendment—like the anti-diplomacy provision—was added after the vast majority of the bill’s cosponsors had already signed on. 

The amendment on Central Bank of Iran sanctions was added by Rep. Berman (CA), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Rep. Berman has vowed to tighten the screws on the Kirk-Menendez amendment, proposing even harsher restrictions on the administration's discretion on imposing these sanctions.

There is still time to defeat this dangerous and counterproductive legislation, which would put the House on record as opposing diplomacy with certain Iranian officials and ratcheting up economic warfare against Iran, increasing the prospect of war.

You can help by using FCNL’s toll-free number to contact your representative’s office: 1-877-429-0678. Tell your representative’s office that you urge him or her to oppose H.R. 1905, which would sabotage diplomacy with Iran by prohibiting contact between U.S. officials and certain Iranian officials.

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