ACTION ALERT: Iran's New President Offers Moderation; AIPAC and Congress Respond with Punishing Sanctions
August 4, 2013
Damien McElroy / The Telegraph & Ali Gharib / The Daily Beast
The new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has taken the oath of office before parliament in Tehran promising to lead a government of hope and moderation. Against the backdrop of a new push for diplomacy and moderation by Iran, the powerful Washington-based Israeli lobby, AIPAC, is pressuring US politicians to ignore Rouhani's offer of improved relations and, instead, inflict a new round of punishing economic sanctions of the Iranian people. See below to take action.
Hassan Rouhani Promises New Era in Iran at Inauguration
Damien McElroy / The Telegraph
(August 4, 2013) -- In his first speech he promised to lead a government of righteousness, honesty and trustworthiness. He said Iranians had rejected extremism in the June presidential election. The Iranian people had smiled at the world by electing him, he said. "The people voted for moderation ... the people want to live better, to have dignity, and enjoy a stable life. They want to recapture their deserving position among nations," he said.
The new president called for better relations with the world and the demise of international sanctions. "The only path to interact with Iran is through negotiations on equal grounds, reciprocal trust-building, mutual respect and reducing hostilities," he added.
The Scottish-educated cleric was elected in June on pledges to improve Iran’s economy and world standing, and enters office as the country experiences its worst political and economic isolation in two decades. The economy is hampered by accelerating inflation and a weakened currency resulting from sanctions spearheaded by the US in an effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Ayatollah Khamenei, the Islamic Republic’s highest authority, praised Rohani’s past service and backed his approach to foreign policy. In his first press conference after being elected, Rohani said he would seek to make the nuclear program more transparent and improve relations with Western nations.
“I approve of the prudent approach,” Mr Khamenei said on Saturday. “We need to take action wisely and prudently.”
The US and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, while Iran maintains its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes of enerby production and medical research. Rohani has backed Iran’s right to a civilian nuclear program while criticising Ahmadinejad’s confrontational style on the issue.
To reverse the damage caused by the hardline policies of his firebrand predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr Rouhani will rely on an inner circle of Western-educated officials.
His first staff appointment, the nomination as chief of staff of Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Mohammad Nahavandian, who holds a doctorate in economics from George Washington University and a US Green Card, was seen as a statement of his priorities.
"The trajectory of my government will be saving Iran's economy and constructive engagement with the world," Rouhani has said.
AIPAC's Push To Scuttle Iran Diplomacy
Ali Gharib / The Daily Beast
(Aug 1, 2013) -- Observers of America's Iran policy might be forgiven for doubting the sincerity of those Washington hawks who constantly plea that they both support the Iranian people and hope to avoid launching a war against them.
That's because the hawks -- in the think tank and lobbying worlds, and especially on Capitol Hill -- keep pressing forward with measures that would greatly reduce the possibility of avoiding said war. Yesterday, the House passed yet another round of sanctions against Iran.
This comes against the backdrop of a presumed new push for diplomacy as Hassan Rowhani, Iran's moderate president-elect, assembles an administration that looks to move forward with campaign promises he made to the Iranian people, including "peace and reconciliation" with the world and "transparency" -- though not capitulation -- on the nuclear program. He's also, relatedly, promised to ease Iran's economic crises, which arose due in large part to sanctions against the nuclear program.
The effort to dismiss Iran's elections as unimportant -- despite millions of Iranians' willingness to come out and vote for Rowhani -- and forge ahead with sanctions stem largely from efforts backed by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The latest sanctions bill, the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, which passed the House 400 to 20 last night, would impose the as yet toughest measures to date, just days before Rowhani's inauguration. With AIPAC backing, the bill got 376 co-sponsors before Rowhani's election. Some 80 of those were among the 131 members who signed a letter pushing diplomacy and urging restraint -- but that letter took no positions on new sanctions.
In another letter yesterday, 16 members of Congress urged that the bill be delayed on the grounds that it would be "counterproductive and irresponsible to vote on this measure before Iran's new president is inaugurated." The 16 called for the bill to be revamped to strengthen presidential waivers to sanctions and make clear it doesn't authorize the use of force.
Why not pass sanctions now? A deal would require compromise on both sides, and the bill harms the chance of building confidence on the Iranian side that the Americans have interest in anything other than regime change. The Iranians "have a strong case to make that they can’t trust us," the Iran expert Gary Sick told the New York Times.
"What the Congress is trying to do is confirm that." The latest effort even strips presidential waivers, hardly the kind of flexibility needed if Barack Obama, faced with the prospect of a real agreement, wanted to roll back sanctions in exchange for Iranian cooperation. It's not that diplomacy will definitely work; it's that if these hawks have their way, it definitely won't.
Signatories of the most recent letter rose yesterday in objection, for now, at least, to new sanctions. "This bill empowers the very hardliners that are the problem," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA). Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) plead: "Don't undercut our President if there's some daylight. Don't poke the Iranian people in the eye." And Rep. Jim McDermott laid out an impassioned -- and eminently reasonable -- case for postponing the vote.
"I'm standing here asking, What's the rush? For the first time in years, a moderate is about to be sworn in in Iran," he said. "We could come back after our vacation and deal with this if we need to." He added that he was on the floor when sanctions were piled on Iraq: "We've seen this movie before." He noted that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children perished due to sanctions. "Did it change? No, we went to war with them."
Those in favor of the bill gave various reasons for supporting it. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) basically said no deal could be struck until there was regime change in Iran. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) said Rowhani's "actions must speak louder than his words" -- a curious take before the president-elect has even ascended to his office.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) insisted, contra all evidence, "This new so-called president of Iran is no different than Ahmadinejad" -- referring to the outgoing hard-line two-termer Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The bill's author, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), closed the floor debate with this accusation: Rowhani "was at the table when Iran masterminded the '94 bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires. He was the individual who gave the order, and boasted of it."
That charge had its origins in a right-wing blogpost, citing the pro-war pundit Reuel Marc Gerecht, that alleged Rowhani knew of the plot, not that he ordered it. That report remains uncorrected after it was thoroughly debunked by no less of an authority than the aggressive Argentine prosecutor in the case.
Can there be any doubt about wherefrom this hawkish push emanates? Supporters of the new sanctions, almost to a woman, cited Israel's security. Not only is AIPAC directly involved with this and a handful of other efforts that many judge would stymie diplomacy, but other right-wing pro-Israel groups like the Israel Project -- which held a Congressional briefing yesterday with three Members of Congress who support the new sanctions, including the two authors -- and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies have relentlessly press for tougher measures while making no hint that they foresee any sort of avenue for diplomacy at all.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, in the words of the New York Times, been publicly "increas(ing) pressure" on America to take a more hard-line Iran stance, and his supporters in Washington have been happily obliging.
But no matter the prime mover behind them, these policies will end badly, by making available neither to the US nor Iran a way to back-off the current trajectory, one that, if Barack Obama's pledges of prevention are to be believed, will lead to war.
The Obama administration got it right last year when then-UN ambassador Susan Rice said diplomacy remained the "best and most permanent way" to stop Iran from getting nukes. The experts agree, noting that an attack would not only chance regional war, but would yield merely a delay in the program and likely spur Iran to harden its position on a weapons program (despite proclamations by Congress -- most recently in a letter reportedly drafted by AIPAC lobbyists -- American intelligence agencies don't think Iran has taken a final decision to build a bomb).
Perhaps the most comprehensive way out for America was laid out this month in a New York Review of Books article by Ambassadors William Luers and Tom Pickering, along with MIT expert Jim Walsh.
"If the United States is to reach an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, Washington will have to develop new approaches to thinking about Iran," they wrote. "There is yet time for diplomacy, but the longer real negotiations are delayed, the greater is the risk of conflict in the increasingly violent environment of the Middle East."
The Obama administration and Washington policy-makers would do well to hear these elder statesmen's voices over the constant din of Netanyahu and his Stateside allies.
Ali Gharib is a Senior Editor for Open Zion, where he writes about the intersection of US foreign policy and the Middle East. Before joining the Daily Beast, he reported for ThinkProgress, Inter Press Service and other outlets.
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ACTION ALERT: Support the Feinstein Letter Calling for Diplomacy with Iran
Just Foreign Policy
in a historic development, a bipartisan group of 131 Representatives in Congress -- almost a third of the House, and the majority of the Democratic caucus -- recently sent a letter to President Obama urging him to use the opportunity presented by the election of a pro-diplomacy President in Iran to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts.
The initiative is being hailed as "the biggest ever pro-Irandiplomacy letter from the Hill."  That's thanks, in part, to the thousands of emails and calls from constituents like you!
Inspired by the House's example, California Senator Dianne Feinstein is now leading a Senate letter to President Obama with the same message. 
ACTION: Let's get to work. Can you write your Senators and urge them to sign the Feinstein letter supporting diplomacy with Iran? To take action, Click here.
President-elect Rouhani takes office on August 4. After the Dent-Price House letter urging reinvigorated diplomacy with Iran was reported in the media, President-elect Rouhani responded on Twitter:
131 Congressmen have signed a letter calling on President #Obama to give peace a chance with Iran's new president #Rouhani
In an article Saturday titled, "President-Elect Stirs Optimism in Iran and West," the New York Times reported: 
There is growing optimism in Iran and in the West that Mr. Rouhani, 64, is ready to restart serious talks on the nuclear issue; Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq told the United States this month that Mr. Rouhani was ready to start direct talks, and the Obama administration has indicated a willingness to engage in head-to-head dialogue after years of inclusive multiparty negotiations.
There hasn't been an opening like this for diplomacy with Iran in years. Let's not let the permanent war faction ruin this opportunity with their mantra of "nothing new here—jack up the confrontation!"
Urge your Senators to sign the Feinstein letter.