House Votes Against Iran Diplomacy
By Kate Gould on 12/15/2011 @ 10:30 AM
On Wednesday, December 14th, the House voted 410-11 in support of a bill that would outlaw any contact between U.S. officials and certain Iranian officials. However, even the bill's most prominent supporters acknowledged that grassroots opposition that FCNL helped lead had made an impact on the debate.
The House ignored the warnings of a host of former ambassadors, national security analysts, and other experts and voted in favor of this anti-diplomacy legislation that would criminalize any contact between any U.S. government officials and any Iranian official who "presents a threat to the United States" or is "affiliated with terrorist organizations" (see here for full text). If this legislation were to be enacted into law, in a crisis, U.S. diplomats could find themselves unable to talk to their Iranian counterparts to prevent war from erupting.
Your Calls, Messages Made an Impact on the Debate
FCNL played a lead role in lobbying Congress against this dangerous sanctions bill, which includes many counterproductive measures, in addition to the restriction on diplomacy with Iran. More than 1,500 people in FCNL's action network sent emails, made phone calls, or organized lobby visits to ask their representatives to oppose this anti-diplomacy legislation. Over 500 people took action in a call-in campaign organized by FCNL, Just Foreign Policy, and the National Iranian American Council to ask their representatives to vote against this bill on the House floor.
While this dangerous sanctions legislation passed by a landslide, the grassroots momentum generated by this major push against such extreme measures has built a strong foundation for the hard work ahead to get U.S. policymakers to heed Admiral Mullen's call to establish a communications channel with Iran and prevent the outbreak of war.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL) sent a letter to House members specifically referencing the wave of grassroots opposition to the anti-diplomacy legislation. Signaling that the grassroots pressure was so strong that as a prominent supporter of the legislation she had to respond to it, Rep. Schakowsky wrote in her "Dear Colleague" letter: "Some of you may have heard from your constituents and others that this legislation may limit the Obama Administration's ability to conduct diplomacy with Iran in an effort to end its nuclear weapons program." Rep. Schakowsky goes on to claim that "this legislation will not limit the Administration's ability to negotiate with Iranian diplomats in any way", contrary to former ambassadors and other national security experts who have pointed out that this provision could close off prospects for diplomatic communication between the U.S. and Iran at the very time that such channels are critical for preventing war.
FCNL also initiated a coalition letter to Congress from 26 Jewish-American, arms control, religious, and foreign policy groups urging members of Congress to oppose the ban on diplomatic contact with certain Iranian officials. Representative Dennis Kucinich (OH) spoke about this organization letter during the debate on the House floor, and introduced it into the congressional record.
This 26 organization-strong coalition letter was also featured in press reports, including the Washington-insider Congressional Quarterly reporting on the bill's passage. The CQ article (which you have to have a paid subscription to view) noted that the coalition letter made an impact on the debate:
"The Iran sanctions legislation passed Wednesday also would deny visas to Iranian government officials with ties to terrorism and block U.S. government contact with such officials unless the president issues a waiver. The latter of those provisions has garnered opposition from a coalition of foreign policy and religious advocacy organizations that argue it would constrain U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran."
“We are concerned that [the provision] would undermine prospects for a diplomatic resolution of Iran’s disputed nuclear program, increasing the threat of war,” they wrote to House lawmakers last week, urging removal of the language.
While the coalition letter signals growing momentum and awareness among the Washington foreign policy and religious community to prevent war and support diplomacy with Iran, it must be recognized that for years, extreme Iran sanctions measures have typically received the same overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress that this legislation received.
What's Next for the Work Ahead?
While the House as a collective body sent an alarming anti-Iran diplomacy message, it is important to note that some brave members of Congress did take a brave stand to ensure that diplomacy with Iran is never taken off the table, or restricted in anyway. Reps. Dennis Kucinich (OH), Pete Stark (CA), John Conyers (MI), and Keith Ellison (MN) signed a Dear Colleague letter in opposition of this dangerous legislation. During the debate on the House floor, Representative Kucinich and Earl Blumenauer (OR) warned of the dire consequences this bill could have not only on efforts to diplomatically resolve the conflict over Iran's nuclear program, but also the impact that the broad economic sanctions included in this bill would have on the U.S. and global economy.
This all stick-no carrot U.S. policy approach towards Iran is not going to change overnight. That is precisely why these phone calls, messages, and lobby visits are so important for the long-term work of preventing war with Iran, and educating members of Congress of what the consequences of these extreme sanctions measures are.
Fortunately, the particularly alarming anti-diplomacy provision in the bill is not expected to have any traction in the Senate. However, earlier this month the Senate passed legislation to lock any company or country that does business with Iran's Central Bank out of the U.S. financial system, which could have dire consequences on the U.S. and global economy and cause untold humanitarian suffering in Iran.