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Americans for Peace Now’s sensible take on new Iran sanctions bill

New Iran sanctions legislation is now in the House and Senate (S. 908 and HR 2194). No doubt it will be the major focus of AIPAC’s lobbying efforts this coming Tuesday, after AIPAC”s Policy Conference, when literally throusands of its members will descend on Capitol Hill. According to a contact at Americans for Peace Now, AIPAC has already circulated a sheet with FAQs in support of the legislation.

APN opposes these bills and is conveying variations of the message that is pasted below to Hill offices. It is, in my judgement, very reasonable. But one searches in vain for these arguments on the web sites of mainstream American Jewish organizations that are concerned with Iran. These arguments, and those of Triti Parsi, are not even included in the conversation. So ordinary folks in the Jewish community have been led to believe that there is only one set of options when dealing with Iran, only one way to address Iran’s nuclear development: “isolation-sanctions-and-saber-rattling,” as described by APN. (See Chapter 5 in my book, which makes the same point).

Here is APN’s message to members of Congress:

Next week a major lobbying effort will get underway in support of new Iran sanctions legislation in both houses of Congress – HR 2194 and S. 908. I want to make sure you know that Americans for Peace Now (APN) opposes these bills. We urge members to refrain from cosponsoring them and to urge their leaderships to make a public commitment that these bills will be kept off the legislative agenda.

Like Congress, we view with grave concern Iran’s apparent determination to expand its nuclear program, the concomitant threat that Iran might produce nuclear weapons, and the danger a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to the national security interests of both the U.S. and Israel. We also view with grave concern the threat posed by Iran’s support for terrorist groups operating throughout the region. We take these threats very seriously and have thus supported – and continue to support – smart, targeted sanctions against Iran.

We also recognize, and we urge Congress to recognize, that thirty years of Iran policy defined by “isolation-sanctions-and-saber-rattling-only” has been a spectacular failure, failing to induce the Iranian regime to become more moderate or friendly to the West. Worse yet, as concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions have intensified over the past decade, the stubborn refusal to alter this approach, even in the face of its clear inadequacies, has cost the U.S. and the international community valuable time during which Iran’s nuclear program has moved forward – time when determined diplomacy, coupled with sanctions, might have yielded a different result.

Given this failure, it is appropriate that the Obama administration has adopted a long-overdue new approach to Iran. This still-evolving approach involves serious, high-level U.S. engagement with Iran, without preconditions or artificial timelines. The President embarks on any such engagement with Iran with massive sanctions already in place – sanctions that impact virtually every aspect of U.S.-Iran relations and that already cripple Iranian financial and commercial activities worldwide. These sanctions, which nobody is suggesting lifting, provide the President ample leverage in any negotiations with Iran.

We have confidence that the introduction of this new sanctions legislation in no way reflects an attack on the Obama Administration’s Iran policy, and we appreciate indications that there is no intention to take action on this legislation for the time being (at least in the House). Nonetheless, we are deeply concerned that introducing and gathering cosponsors on this legislation has the potential to undermine the President’s effort to give “sanctions-plus-diplomacy” a chance to succeed where years of “isolation-sanctions-and-saber-rattling-only” failed.

— It risks sending a message that Congress does not fully support President Obama’s effort to engage Iran.

— It raises concerns that Congress is preparing to act — at some point in the future — to thwart the President’s diplomatic efforts with Iran, even if the President believes that diplomacy has not yet run its course. In doing so, it risks weakening, rather than strengthening, the President’s hand as he begins engagement with Iran.

— It has the potential to do very real harm to U.S. relations with other nations, including important allies whose cooperation is vital to the U.S. – not only with respect to Iran, but with respect to the myriad challenges that exist worldwide today, including the global economic crisis, the threat of pandemic flu, and the growing problem of piracy on the high seas.

We are not suggesting that diplomatic efforts to resolve U.S. differences with Iran will be easy. We are not suggesting that the success of these efforts is a foregone conclusion. And we are not suggesting that any future options should be foreclosed. In the event that the Obama Administration determines that Iran is truly not interested in resolving the important issues on the bilateral agenda through diplomacy, the option for further actions by the U.S., including additional sanctions, will still exist.

We are suggesting that if U.S. engagement with Iran is to have any chance of success, credible, sustained diplomatic efforts – without preconditions, artificial timelines, or the threat of Congressionally-imposed end-dates in the form of new sanctions – are indispensable. These new sanctions bills are neither necessary to, nor supportive of, such an effort. We therefore urge members of Congress to refrain from co-sponsoring these bills and to press their leadership to make a public commitment that these bills will be kept off the legislative agenda.

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