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Stormy U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Iran Nuke Deal

The Administration rolled out its “A Team” of witnesses at the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on July 29th, chaired by Chairman Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. The Hearing addressed national security issues arising from the Iran nuclear pact scheduled by a Congressional vote on or before September 17th under the term of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Yesterday’s hearing was the last in a series of House and Senate sessions prior to the summer recess  adjournment starting Thursday, July 31st. Congress reconvenes following the Labor Day holiday giving less than 10 days for additional hearings before the vote to either accept or reject the Iran nuclear pact. Public opinion poll taken during the current series of Congressional shows a majority of Americans tilting towards asking Congress to reject the pact. The issue is how many of the undecided 13 Democratic Senators and over 30 Democratic Representatives will decide if a negative vote will be veto proof, given a threat by President Obama.

The panel of witnesses included, Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. While questions naturally arose about the credibility of maintaining a military option, there was a tough grilling of Secretary Kerry and Secretary Moniz by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on the secret side deals between the UN nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Islamic Republic of Iran over prior military developments.

DefenseNews reported  the comments of Secretary Carter and Gen. Dempsey on military capabilities:

“It’s important that we have an agreement and it be verifiable, and that we keep doing what we need to do: Defend our friends and allies, remain strong in the Gulf — frequent navigation, ballistic missile defense, all the things that we’re doing, and the agreement doesn’t limit us in any way,” Carter said.

Indeed, “military options remain,” Dempsey said, though a negotiated settlement provides a more “durable” solution, as well as time to work with local partner nations to address Iran’s activities. Dempsey said there are a series of initiatives with Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council to that effect.

Exercising airstrikes to take out Iran’s nuclear capability would disrupt its program by several years, Dempsey said. However analysis suggests it would also provoke Iran to “counter our presence in the region at every opportunity and use these other malign activities they have.”

That led to exchanges with Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Joni Ernst (R-NE). Ernst like Senate panel colleague Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) is a former combat veteran who served in Iraq:

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., characterized Dempsey’s brief opening statement, as a “tepid endorsement” of the accord and “damning disagreement with faint praise,” which Dempsey disputed, saying he agreed with the deal.

His statement was neither “tepid nor enthusiastic, but pragmatic,” Dempsey said. His input in the deal was sought “episodically,” his final recommendation given weeks before negotiations concluded. At least in part, his recommendation was to keep pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missiles and arms trafficking for as long as possible.

Challenged by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, over the president’s assertion that the US faces a choice between an Iran deal or a resolution by force — which Ernst characterized as “war” — Dempsey said he had not said anything to that effect to the president.

“We have a range of options, and I hope to present them,” Dempsey said. “As long as we agree, military strikes on a sovereign nation are an act of war, but there are things between here and there.”

Sen. Cotton was on top of his game engaging in the most withering  Q&A  with  Secretary Kerry and  Energy Secretary Moniz  about their knowledge or the lack thereof  concerning the so-called secret IAEA side deals on prior  military nuclear developments (PMD).  Late he engaged Gen. Dempsey during a discussion of exhibits to corroborate the lethality of Iranian IEDS used to kill American service personnel in Iraq. Dempsey lent the impression he was less inclined to be a booster of the Iran nuke deal. Cotton is both a veteran of combat in Iraq as a former U.S. Army officer and a Harvard Law School graduate and admitted lawyer

Cotton, like any good prosecutor, secured the facts that bolstered his line of questioning to elicit a response he was seeking for the Committee record. Prior to this Armed Services Hearing, Cotton and Kansas Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo had flown to Vienna to confer with IAEA officials uncovering the alleged secret side deals on investigation of Iranian compliance with prior military developments in their nuclear program (PMD).

schultz i know nothingKerry and Moniz, when queried about whether they had either knowledge of or read the IAEA secret side deals on PMD, adopted what in TV land is the fabled Sergeant Schultz defense from the 1960’s TV WWII Nazi prison camp comedy series, “Hogan’s Heroes” – “I know nothing” They simply fobbed it off saying that someone like Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman may have glanced through these documents. Just indicates that the Administration either elected not to conduct due diligence or used the ploy that those agreements were confidential between the IAEA and Iran, that as Cotton pointed out “the Ayatollah read”.

Former IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen, who is now a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, provided the answers in a report by Armin Rosen of Business Insider.  Heinonen in an email said:

“According to the IAEA rules and practices such documents could be made available to the members of the IAEA Board”. Heinonen said the IAEA secretariat could not divulge these side agreements to other member states on its own initiative. But there are two ways US diplomats could access them. In one scenario, Iran would agree to divulge the documents: “Iran can make it available by asking to distribute it as an [Information Circular] document to all IAEA member states as they did with the 2007 Work Plan,” Heinonen said, referring to a publicly available agreement between the IAEA and Iran on nuclear safeguards.

US diplomats could also view these side agreements if a member state of the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors requests their distribution.

Such a move would stand a decent chance of success: “If a board member asks it and others resist the distribution … this can be overcome by a vote,” Heinonen said. “Simple majority is enough, and no vetoes exist in the IAEA system. The board can also request the whole document to be made public. Such a request could be best done by a country which is not part of the JCPOA process; my favorite is Canada.”

Cotton showed   the witness panel two exhibits graphically portraying the effects of an Iranian developed shaped charge IED that were used to kill 500 American service personnel in Iraq. Gen. Dempsey acknowledged what they were and the devastating effects on Humvees, their occupants and other vehicles. Cotton then asks Kerry for his reaction. While, expressing appropriate sorrow for the loss of American lives, Kerry   told the Senate panel that Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani who developed the shaped charge IEDs would not have sanctions removed.  Reports by both ABC news and the Iranian FARS news agency  have confirmed  that Gen.Soleimani has been confirmed among a list   of Iranian persons and institutions included in an annex to the JCPOA who will have both travel bans and asset restrictions lifted.

Watch this YouTube video of Senator Cotton’s Q&A at the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Senator Tom Cotton’s grilling of Kerry and Moniz revealed their lax conduct of due diligence on the IAEA side deals. They spent too much time being hounded with repeated demands for concessions by Javad Zarif in negotiations in Vienna. Instead, they should have sent aides over to the IAEA headquarters to ask about the side deals to provide a road map on prior military developments of Iran nuclear program. Senator Cotton and Rep. Pompeo did just that. Instead Kerry and the negotiating tea m basically said in so many words, we already know what Iran did, let’s move on and get with the program by approving the Iran nuclear pact. The video of Senator Cotton  Senate  Armed Services Committee Q&A should be widely shared  on social media  to inform  undecided  Congressional Democrats about why the Iran nuclear pact  should be rejected.

Hearing by hearing testimony by the Administration “A Team” on the Iranian nuclear pact demonstrates how bad a deal Kerry and the Obama negotiating team crafted with the experts in playing multi-dimensional chess, the Islamic Regime in Tehran.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Unanimously Approves Iran Nuke Review Legislation

Our Iconoclast post title about a denouement today on the P5+1 Iran Nuke agreement review legislation was realized this afternoon in a unanimous Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote approving a compromise measure. The Committee action reasserted   Constitutional prerogatives forcing President Obama to relent his opposition. The vote was 19 to 0 based on the compromise language worked out between Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). Assenting to the new version of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review  Act of 2015, originally co-sponsored by embattled  New Jersey U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Sen. Corker, were two Committee Members, announced GOP Presidential Contenders, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).  Corker had not been a signatory to Arkansas Tom Cotton’s letter that was sent to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic in Tehran apprising them of the Senate’s advice and consent on major treaties and agreements.

This legislative victory preserves the right of the Congress to review changes in the prevailing sanctions against Iran occasioned by the presentation of the Administration of any definitive agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran by the intended date of June 30, 2015.  Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif announced at a ministerial meeting in Spain today, that negotiations leading towards a possible definitive agreement would start April 21st in Lausanne, Switzerland.  U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said the House would approve the veto proof measure. A vote on the measure should reach the floor of the Senate shortly, at which time Amendments might be introduced for possible consideration.

Tower report noted:

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the committee, said that the legislation, which passed 19-0, “absolutely, 100% keeps the congressional review process — the integrity of it — in place.”

The compromise language, which was worked out by Corker and ranking Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin (D – Md.), shortened the amount of time of Congress would get to review a nuclear agreement with Iran from 60 days to 30, and softened some other provisions of the bill.

The bill is consistent with a poll released today by Suffolk University showing that Americans favor congressional review of any nuclear deal with Iran by a wide margin—72% to 19%.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Barack Obama would sign the compromise bill, reversing the administration’s longstanding objection to any congressional oversight of a potential nuclear deal with Iran.

The New York Times reported how quickly Administration opposition to the legislation had folded:

Why Mr. Obama gave in after fierce opposition was the last real dispute of what became a rout. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said Mr. Obama was not “particularly thrilled” with the bill, but had decided that a new proposal put together by the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made enough changes to make it acceptable.

“We’ve gone from a piece of legislation that the president would veto to a piece of legislation that’s undergone substantial revision such that it’s now in the form of a compromise that the president would be willing to sign,” Mr. Earnest said. “That would certainly be an improvement.”

Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the committee’s chairman, had a far different interpretation. As late as 11:30 a.m., in a classified briefing at the Capitol, Mr. Kerry was urging senators to oppose the bill. The “change occurred when they saw how many senators were going to vote for this, and only when that occurred,” Mr. Corker said.

Mr. Cardin said that the “fundamental provisions” of the legislation had not changed.

But the compromise between him and Mr. Corker did shorten a review period of a final Iran nuclear deal and soften language that would make the lifting of sanctions dependent on Iran’s ending support for terrorism.

The agreement almost certainly means Congress will muscle its way into nuclear negotiations that Mr. Obama sees as a legacy-defining foreign policy achievement.

Under the agreement, the president would still have to send periodic reports to Congress on Iran’s activities regarding ballistic missiles and terrorism, but those reports could not trigger another round of sanctions.

The Times reported possible floor actions that might resurrect original provisions:

The measure still faces hurdles. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, fresh off the opening of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, dropped plans to push for an amendment to make any Iran deal dependent on the Islamic Republic’s recognition of the State of Israel, a diplomatic nonstarter.

But he hinted that he could try on the Senate floor.

“Not getting anything done plays right into the hands of the administration,” Mr. Rubio said.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, abandoned an amendment to make any Iran accord into a formal international treaty needing two-thirds of the Senate for its ratification, but he, too, said it could be revived before the full Senate.

The measure will be brought up for a floor vote later this month and is expected to pass both the Senate and the House in near veto proof form.

It is clear that the victors in this battle are the Republican Majority and concerned Democrats who have been monitoring polls and constituent opinions regarding Congressional Review prerogatives.  In retrospect  Sen. Cotton’s letter and the March 3rd address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a Joint Meeting of Congress alerted  Americans to problems with the P5+1 framework for a deal  announced on April 2nd despite the objections of President Obama and certain leading Democratic minority members of both the Senate and House. Perhaps the diktats announced last Thursday by Ayatollah Khamenei demanding the lifting of all sanctions upon signing of an agreement and denial of intrusive IAEA inspections of military nuclear weapons development sites conveyed to Senate Democrats that there were different opinions about the two Facts Statements. The one released by the State Department versus that of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Add to that was Monday’s removal of a 2010 moratorium on the sale of an advanced Russian S-300 air defense system to Iran an indication that President Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei could void weapons sanctions agreements at will.

The losers in this episode are Secretary Kerry and President Obama. How those negotiations go starting April 21st will determine if Congress will have anything to review on June 30th.

RELATED ARTICLE: Commentators On Arab TV: Obama Supports Iran Because His Father Was A Shi’ite

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). Source: Politico

Senator Cotton Defends Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran

We posted several times this week on the controversy that erupted following  publication of letter on Monday, March 9th, 2014, authored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) and signed by 46 other Republican colleagues that was tweeted to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Seven Republican Senators for various reasons declined to do so.  It drew the ire of the President, Secretary of State Kerry and most Democratic Senators.  It triggered several White House website “We the People” website petition campaigns. One requested charges of “treason” be filed while the other accused Sen. Cotton and the 46 Republican signatories of violating the 1799 Logan Act suggesting they could be sued for illegally conducting foreign relations when Members of Congress are exempt from the hoary law. Further, both sides of the aisle have done so historically, including then Senators Kerry and Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. That didn’t stop some media like the New York Daily News and others from suggesting Republican signatories of the Cotton Letter were acting in a traitorous manner in an editorial  and front page headline, “GOPers Sabotage Bam Nuke Deal”.

The letter  has been called “mutinous” by a former Army General cited by the Washington PostPolitico blamed Sen. Cotton for “getting us a hard-line Supreme Ruler.” President Obama found it “somewhat ironic” that the Cotton letter may have aligned them with so-called hardliner opposition in Iran to the nuclear deal. Others contended that the letter was “ misguided”  and ”disrespectful” of the Presidential perogatives under our Constitution for negotiations of treaties and executive agreements. In our most recent post on the controversy on Friday, we wrote:

Two independent legal experts confirmed the Constitutional requirements for review of foreign treaties and Congressional executive agreements. Sen. Cotton’s letter also pointed out that any executive order signed by the President may not survive past the end of his term in 22 months and might be modified or terminated for cause by any successor. That raised a question of why the Memorandum of Understanding was non-binding. That provoked responses from both Foreign Minister Zarif and Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Khamenei.  While the latter railed in rhetoric about how the GOP initiative reflected “the disintegration of the US” and why our representations can’t be trusted and laughing at the State Department citing Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. It was left to Foreign Minister Zarif, to reveal that Congress wouldn’t have to approve anything saying: “The executive agreement was not bilateral but rather multi-lateral with the rest of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, subject to a resolution of the Security Council.”

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu wrote in a Jewish Press article published today, “U.N. Security Council’s lifting of sanctions and endorsement of a deal might make Congress irrelevant.” He then cites the observation of Omri Ceren, Communications Director for the Washington, DC-based The Israel Project:

The letter forced the Administration to explain why they’re icing Congress out of Iran negotiations, and now that explanation has ignited a firestorm. The administration looks like it intentionally chose a weaker, non-binding arrangement, rather than a treaty, to avoid Senate oversight.

Ken Timmerman, whose FrontPageMagazine article, we cited noted the reason for Zarif’s and presumably the Administration position:

The Obama administration has told Congress that it won’t submit the nuclear agreement with Iran for Congressional approval, but now Zarif is saying that it will be submitted to the United Nations, to form the basis of a United Nations Security Council resolution, presumably aimed at lifting UN sanctions on Iran.

That prompted Sen. Coker (R-TN) and Foreign Relations Senate Committee chair co-sponsor of The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 to write President Obama Thursday:

There are now reports that your administration is contemplating taking an agreement, or aspects of it, to the United Nations Security Council for a vote.

Enabling the United Nations to consider an agreement or portions of it, while simultaneously threatening to veto legislation that would enable Congress to do the same, is a direct affront to the American people and seeks to undermine Congress’s appropriate role.

bill bennetSen. Cotton was interviewed on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America program on Wednesday, March 11th, 2014 in the midst of the continuing controversy. He presented the salient background and rationale for the letter.  Among points regarding his letter he made during the interview were:

He indicated that the letter took shape following Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a Joint Meeting of Congress that, in his opinion, raised questions about what sort of deal the Administration was entering into among both his Republican and many Democratic colleagues, as it did not preclude Iran from achieving a nuclear capability.

His letter was directed at informing Iran’s leaders of the Constitutional authorities for Senate review of foreign treaties and executive agreements and that they may be terminated by end of President Obama’s term or modified by succeeding Presidents or Congress under existing related sanctions legislation.  He thought that the response from Iran’s foreign minister reflected his lack of understanding of Congressional review and ratification  requirements as regarding any Memorandum of Understanding on Iran’s nuclear program that the US P5+1 might enter into.

He illustrated the ability of President to rescind executive agreements of predecessors with reference to the 2004 letter of former President Bush to the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reaffirming Israel’s rights under UN Resolution 242 to “secure and defensible” borders and that Jerusalem was Israel’s undivided capital. President Obama, according to Sen. Cotton, rescinded that executive agreement by suggesting that Israel might divide Jerusalem along the lines of the pre-1967 1949 Armistice Line.

The President’s objective, endeavoring to conclude so-called verifiable agreements on Iran’s nuclear agreements in their current form, would be a bad deal as reflecting in Israeli Prime Minister’s address comments before a Joint Meeting of Congress on March 3rd as it could allow Iran to continue developing a nuclear capability, not preclude it.

He suggested that President Obama’s motivation for pushing for the Iran nuclear deal was to achieve a strategic rapprochement with Iran. This despite the Islamic Republic cited by our State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. Among specific examples cite by Cotton during the interview  were the 1979 US Embassy hostage taking and terrorist attacks by proxies  over several decades that resulted in deaths and injuries to hundreds of American diplomats and service personnel in Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

On the Matter of the Administration’s new Authorization for the Use of Military Power submitted to the Senate, he called it seriously restrictive. He pointed to the collapse of Iraq and rise of the Islamic State following the Administration’s failure to conclude a status of forces agreement with Iraq on the termination of the Iraq War in 2011.

When asked about Iran’s involvement in the current battle for Tikrit with Iraq national security forces and Iranian controlled Shia Militia, Cotton noted the role of the Quds Force, a combination of Special Forces and its CIA and its ubiquitous commander Qassem Suleymani. He accused Suleymani’s Quds Force of involvement in American casualties in both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. It also reflected Iran’s rapidly expanding sphere of influence over four Arab countries in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and more recently, Yemen.

Sen. Cotton’s Bennett program interview came just before revelations about the implications of Foreign Minister Zarif’s remarks suggesting the non-binding Memo of Understanding reflected resort to UN approval of any appraisal arising from the multilateral negotiations with the P5+1. You may listen to the Bennett interview with Sen. Cotton, here.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is courtesy of CNN.