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Hardline Dems Line Up Behind 'Dangerous' Iran Sanctions Bill

Phyllis Bennis: 'This puts the world at risk of another war'

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Powerful Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)In what critics are slamming as a dangerous nudge towards war with Iran, two powerful Senate Democrats have joined a hardline effort to pass stiff sanctions against Iran in open defiance of the White House and the Geneva interim agreement.

"This is incredibly dangerous. It puts the world at risk of another war," said Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams. "These are people who prefer war to diplomacy. We're beginning a diplomatic process that seems to
have some potential. The idea that people would intentionally scuttle it to ratchet up tensions rather than ratcheting them down is outrageous."

The so-called Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013 is set for introduction as early as this week by Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). A copy of the legislation is circulating around Washington according to numerous media reports.

The bill stipulates a harsh escalation of sanctions if the talks fail to bring an agreement in six months or Iran is deemed to violate the interim deal. It also expands sanctions already in effect while giving Obama the power to waive them by showing Congress every 30 days that Iran is meeting certain conditions.

Critics charge that this provision is in direct violation of an interim agreement reached in late November in Geneva that the U.S. will "refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions" during the six-month period the agreement is in effect.

As Jim Lobe, Washington Bureau Chief for the Inter Press Service, points out, the Senate legislation sets near-impossible conditions for a peace deal by requiring "that any final agreement include the dismantling of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities — a condition, which Iran has made clear repeatedly, is a non-starter."

Furthermore, the bill includes non-binding language declaring that "if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence."

The bill appears to signal a joining of forces between powerful Democrats, hardliners in Congress, and the Israel lobby and indicate cracks in the Democratic party. As Lobe points out, Kirk and Menendez are major recipients of funding from pro-Israel lobby groups.

"[The bill] is clearly designed to sabotage last month’s first-phase deal (the Joint Plan of Action) on Tehran’s nuclear program, as well as prospects for a final agreement," writes Lobe. "The bill is called the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013, although I would prefer to call it the Wag the Dog Act of 2014, given the implicit discretion it gives to Bibi Netanyahu to commit the U.S. to war with Iran."

"Conventional wisdom says no one ever lost an election by being too tough on Iran. Well I happen to thinking that conventional wisdom is wrong," said Bennis. "People in this country do not want another war. This means we have to continue mobilizing to stop those who prefer war from having their way."

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