Senate gets proactive on Iran

 In Iran

In the wake of continuous urging from the peace movement, the Senate has taken several proactive moves to counteract the Bush administration’s Iran policy this week.  Senator Jim Webb, (D-VA), one of the most outspoken critics of the Lieberman-Kyl Iran amendment sent a letter to President Bush expressing concern about US relations with Iran:

Dear President Bush:

We are writing to express serious concerns with the provocative statements and actions stemming from your administration with respect to possible U.S. military action in Iran.  These comments are counterproductive and undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy.

We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran.  This includes the Senate vote on September 26, 2007 on an amendment to the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act.  This amendment, expressing the sense of the Senate on Iran, and the recent designation of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, should in no way be interpreted as a predicate for the use of military force in Iran.

We stand ready to work with your administration to address the challenges presented by Iran in a manner that safeguards our security interests and promotes a regional diplomatic solution, but we wish to emphasize that offensive military action should not be taken against Iran without the express consent of Congress.

In addition to Sen. Webb, the letter was signed by Senators Akaka (D-HI), Baucus (D-MT), Boxer (D-CA), Brown (D-OH), Byrd (D-WV), Cantwell (D-WA), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Clinton (D-NY), Dodd (D-CT), Dorgan (D-ND), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Harkin (D-IA), Johnson (D-SD), Kerry (D-MA), Klobuchar (D-MN), Kohl (D-WI), Leahy (D-VT), McCaskill (D-MO), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Reed (D-RI), Rockefeller (D-WV), Sanders (I-VT), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Whitehouse (D-RI), and Wyden (D-OR).

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) also expressed concern about the US government’s approach to Iran in a letter to President Bush, copied to Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates, and Stephen Hadley.  Hagel calls for “direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the government of Iran":

Unless there is a strategic shift, I believe we will find ourselves in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming months. I do not see how the collective actions that we are now taking will produce the results that we seek. If this continues, our ability to sustain a united international front will weaken as countries grow uncertain over our motives and unwilling to risk open confrontation with Iran, and we are left with fewer and fewer policy options.

Now is the time for the United States to actively consider when and how to offer direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran. The offer should be made even as we continue to work with our allies on financial pressure, in the UN Security Council on a third sanctions resolution, and in the region to support those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran. The November report by IAEA Director General ElBaradei to the IAEA Board of Governors could provide an opportunity to advance the offer of bilateral talks.

An approach such as this would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies would be more confident to stand with us if we seek to increase pressure, including tougher sanctions on Iran. It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West. We should be prepared that any dialogue process with Iran will take time, and we should continue all efforts, as you have, to engage Iran from a position of strength/

We should not wait to consider the option of bilateral talks until all other diplomatic options are exhausted. At that point, it could well be too late.

This is a critical message that we have been encouraging members of Congress to articulate, and it is especially significant coming from Hagel, a moderate Republican and respected voice on foreign policy issues. 

The two Democratic senators from Illinois have each offered bills to express the need for congressional authorization for war against Iran.  Sen. Richard Durbin has S. Res. 356, affirming that military action cannot move forward without Congress’s explicit approval. Sen. Barack Obama offered S.J. Res. 23, clarifying that no previous law or resolution, including the use of force in Iraq, authorizes military action against Iran. We must continue to encourage this kind of proactive leadership, and push   members of Congress to convey a vision of what diplomacy with Iran is and why it would be effective.

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