December 16, 2017

Draft Resolution Supporting Iranian Election Protests Gains Support


Draft Resolution Supporting Iranian Election Protests Gains Support

By Caitlin Webber, CQ Staff

When House Republicans pushed a draft resolution supporting Iranian protestors Tuesday, critics said they were seeking political points against a circumspect President Obama.

But when House Democrats signed onto the effort Thursday night, getting an apparent green light for a Friday vote from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, critics said it seemed they were taking political cover.

Backed by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana, the resolution would put the House directly at odds with the White House and Senate Democrats if approved.

Pence introduced the resolution June 16 saying, “if the President of the United States won’t express the unqualified support of our nation for the dissidents in the streets of Tehran, this Congress must.”

The version the House will vote on Friday drops the preamble of Pence’s original resolution that quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a State Department Human Rights Practices report on Iran.

But the key “support for all Iranian citizens who struggle for freedom . . .  condem[nation] of ongoing violence against demonstrators by the government of Iran…and affir[mation] of the universality of individual rights” are the same in both resolutions.

The vote, which a Democratic aide confirmed is “likely” Friday, comes on the sixth day of massive demonstrations throughout Iran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the disputed ballot in a sermon at Tehran University on Friday and warned protestors to stay off the streets.

Berman tried to hedge warnings from Obama, his Senate counterpart Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and many foreign policy groups that even the perception of U.S. interference in the contested election could benefit incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“It is not for us to decide who should run Iran, much less determine the real winner of the June 12 election,” Berman said Thursday. “But we must reaffirm our strong belief that the Iranian people have a fundamental right to express their views about the future of their country freely, and without intimidation.”

But Iranian-American groups, who have lobbied all week against congressional action on a resolution, are crying foul.

“What the Congress is trying to do by coming down squarely on one side in the ongoing election dispute runs the risk of making the United States part of the story in Iran — which is exactly what Ahmadinejad was hoping for,” Patrick Disney, legislative director of the National Iranian American Council said late Thursday night. “It would play right into the hardliners’ hand, letting them point the finger at a supposed external threat rather than their own mismanagement of the country’s affairs.”

Mohamad Bazzi, a Middle East fellow at the Council on Foreign relations, agreed.

“The [House] Democrats are taking the risk of making it difficult for the Obama administration to remain quiet on Iran, and therefore to avoid instigating the regime and opening the opposition up to charges of being foreign agents,” Bazzi said.

While “deeply troubled” by reports of violence against protestors, Obama has admitted he is taking a “wait and see approach.”

“It’s up to the Iranian people to make a decision,” Obama told CNBC June 16. “We are not meddling.”

Kerry cautioned, “with Iran, think before you speak” in a New York Times op-ed June 17.

The vote Friday may reflect mounting pressure on lawmakers to rebuke the election results and violence against protestors calling for a new election.

Until late Thursday Democrats were reserved in their responses to the election.

Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts confirmed in an interview that his bill (HR 1327) that would support state efforts to divest from Iran was pulled off the tentative suspension calendar for June 10 because of the Iranian elections the following Sunday.

But Republicans have said all along they won’t be silenced.

“They are shooting kids in the street. How much more hard line can they get?” Mark Stephen Kirk, R-Ill., said Thursday.

Kirk said he will propose an amendment that would cut off a $900 million loan from the Export-Import Bank to a Indian oil company that supplies gasoline to Iran when the House Appropriations Committee marks up the State Department spending bill June 24.

Before the House passed the State Department authorization bill (HR 2410) on June 10, Dan Burton, R-Ind., made a motion to replace the foreign affairs bill with the language of a bill (HR 2194) that would allow the president to sanction companies that provide petroleum products to Iran.

“The Iranian regime is one of the most prolific state sponsors so far as terrorism in the whole world,” Burton said in urging votes for the Republican motion. “Focusing on Iran should be a top priority of the United States Congress and every minute we wait to address this issue the world becomes a more dangerous place.” The motion failed, 174-250.

And lawmakers say they are not supporting opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, or any other politician in Iran, but that they are backing the Persian people, just what some Iranian dissidents living in the U.S. say their representatives should be doing.

“Whether Democrat or Republican, the best option is to support the youth and women’s aspirations for democratic society,” said Nasser Rashidi, the executive director of the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates, a group that advocates for domestic democratization in Iran. “The people in the streets, they are just using this opportunity to express their minds. It’s an excuse for them to show their support for real elections.”

But experts say congressional solidarity with protestors and condemnation of violence won’t have much affect on Iranian domestic politics or nuclear ambitions.

“Moussavi could have changed the tenor of Iran’s conversation with the West, but he could not have made a deal on the nuclear question on his own, just as Ahmadinejad can’t make such a deal on his own,” Bazzi, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said.

The ultimate arbiter of the Iran’s nuclear program is Khamenei.

But everyone seems to agree that the election has only complicated an already difficult diplomatic situation.

The election has “poisoned the atmosphere for diplomacy,” Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations said. “Washington now faces an Iranian political elite at war with itself and with its people, under renewed criticism from the world and subject to even greater skepticism about its capacity for compromise and respect for international laws and norms.”

Source: CQ Today Online News
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