July 22, 2013

Bipartisan House letter to Obama urges more diplomacy with Iran

U.S. Reps. David Price, D-N.C., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa., got nearly one-third of the members of the House of Representatives to sign onto a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to renew diplomatic efforts with Iran now that the country has a new president-elect.

The letter spearheaded by Price and Dent (see letter and list of those who signed it here) says that the actions of president-elect Hassan Rouhani will speak louder than words. Then it adds:

“Even so, we believe it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that ensures the country does not acquire a nuclear weapon.  In order to test this proposition, it will be prudent for the United States to utilize all diplomatic tools to reinvigorate ongoing nuclear talks.”

The letter was sent to the president on Friday. On Saturday, Rouhani tweeted about it: “131 Congressmen have signed a letter calling on President #Obama to give peace a chance with Iran’s new president #Rouhani.”

The letter doesn’t take a position on sanctions or the possible use of military force. But it signals backing for diplomacy from a significant portion of House members. The 131 who signed it were 114 Democrats (out of 200) and 17 Republicans (out of 234).

June 17, 2013

Obama sounds a note of optimism on Iranian election

President Obama sounded an optimistic note about the election in Iran, saying the election showed Iranians "want to move in a different direction." But he said the sanctions against the country will stand, for now.

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Obama said the election demonstrated a "much more positive atmosphere this time" and said "clearly you have a hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way."

Obama said although centrist Hasan Rowhani has shown interest in shifting how Iran operates internationally, Iran's supreme leader will be making most of the decisions.

Yet, he added, "I do think that there's a possibility that the Iranians decide to take us up on our offer to engage in a more serious substantive way."

He said the U.S. is  open to discussions, but that "there has to be a serious recognition that the sanctions we put in place...will not be lifted in the absence of significant steps in showing the international community that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. And as long as there's an understanding about the basis of the conversation, then I think there's no reason why we shouldn't proceed."

May 06, 2013

Menendez: Assad regime has "crossed a red line" and all options must be considered

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is moving quickly on legislation that would provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and "limited lethal and non-lethal weapons to vetted Syrian groups."

“The Assad regime has crossed a red line that forces us to consider all options,” Menendez said. “The greatest humanitarian crisis in the world is unfolding in and around Syria, and the U.S. must play a role in tipping the scales toward opposition groups and working to build a free Syria.”

He insisted "there will be no greater strategic setback to Iran than to have the Assad regime collapse, and cause a disruption to the terror pipeline between Tehran and Hezbollah in Lebanon."

Here's his office's summary of his bill, which the full committee plans to begin considering next Tuesday:

Continue reading "Menendez: Assad regime has "crossed a red line" and all options must be considered " »

March 14, 2013

Obama tells Israeli TV Iran is still a year away from a nuclear weapon

Ahead of next week's trip to the Middle East, President Barack Obama granted an interview to an Israeli television station, telling its viewers that "Iran possessing a nuclear weapon is a red line" for his administration.

In the interview with Channel 2 news broadcast Thursday night, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Obama said he'll tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "that if diplomatic efforts to thwart the Iranian nuclear program fail, he is ready to use other means prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

"I have been crystal clear about my position on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon, that is a red line for us,' Obama said. "It's something that would not only be dangerous for Israel but would be dangerous for the world, be dangerous for U.S. national security interests."

But Obama said its in the world's best interest to pursue diplomacy, and he said there's still time. He said the assessment of the American intelligence community is that Iran would need "over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don't want to cut it too close."

Asked whether his Cabinet -- which the reporter noted includes a Defense Secretary and Secretary of State "who don't want to see the US embroiled in another war" would sign off on a military attack on Iran, Obama said "You get a lot of advice, but ultimately it's your decision."

March 11, 2013

Lieberman will join Jon Kyl in new bipartisan foreign policy project

Sen. Joseph Lieberman will join the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington research group, as co-chair of an effort to "rebuild and reshape a bipartisan consensus around American global leadership and engagement."

Lieberman, who represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate before retiring earlier this year, has been considered one of the Democrats' strongest voices for a muscular defense. His co-chair at AEI will be former Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who also left the Senate in January.

"Senator Joseph Lieberman’s knowledge, deep commitment and vision for American greatness is all too rare in Washington," said AEI president Arthur C. Brooks. "The American Internationalism Project, under the leadership of Senator Lieberman and Senator Jon Kyl, is critical to opening a discussion about the challenges facing America in the coming decades--and strategizing about how to meet them."

Lieberman, the Democratic party's 2000 vice presidential nominee, had serious differences with the party over the Iraq war. Lieberman was a vocal supporter, and Democratic opposition cost him the party's 2006 Senate nomination. He ran as an independent and won, and caucused with Democrats during his term.

"There is an urgent need to rebuild a bipartisan -- indeed non-political -- consensus for American diplomatic, economic, and military leadership in the world," Lieberman said in a statement.

January 15, 2013

Inhofe, top Armed Services panel Republican, will oppose Hagel

Sen. James Inhofe, incoming top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, will oppose the nomination of former colleague Chuck Hagel as defense secretary.

"Chuck Hagel is a good person, and it was a pleasure to serve with him in the United States Senate.  I am so very appreciative of the sacrifices he and his brother made to serve this country during the Vietnam War," said Inhofe, R-Okla.

He met with Hagel Tuesday and said he told Hagel "we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination."

Here's more from Inhofe's statement:

 “One of my biggest concerns is avoiding Obama’s sequestration that, as Secretary Panetta has said, would be devastating to our military.  However, Senator Hagel’s comments have not demonstrated that same level of concern about the pending defense cuts.

 “Senator Hagel has also been an outspoken supporter of nuclear disarmament and the Global Zero Movement.  At a time when North Korea is threatening our allies with their nuclear capabilities and Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it, the security of our own nation and that of our allies requires us to be vigilant with our own nuclear weapons and defense systems.  This administration has already put us in a more vulnerable position by drastically cutting our nuclear defense budget and eliminating our Third Site missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.

 “On Iran and Israel, Senator Hagel’s record concerns me as well.  In 2000, he was one of just four senators who refused to sign a letter affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel.  In 2001 he was one of just two Senators who voted against extending the sanctions against Iran. A year later, he urged the Bush administration to support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization.  Given the current tension in the Middle East that is largely being instigated by the Iranian regime, I am concerned with Senator Hagel’s views. 

 “Although we are opposed on issues, we are still friends.  This is one of those rare times when policy differences don’t stand in the way of personal relationships.”


October 09, 2012

Romney talks taxes, 47 percent, debates

Mitt Romney still won't offer details of his tax plan, but has some ideas.

He told CNN Tuesday "I'm not going to lay out a piece of legislation here, because I intend to work together with Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  But there are a number of ways one could approach this."

Among them: A "total cap number" on deductions, "It could be $25,000, $50,000.  And people could put whatever deduction in that total cap they'd like," the Republican presidential nominee said. "Or, instead, you could take the posture that Bowles-Simpson (bipartisan deficit reduction commission) did, which is going after specific deductions and limiting them in various ways.

"There are a number of ways we can accomplish the principles which I have --lowering rates for middle income people, making sure high income people don't pay a -- a smaller share and simplifying the code and then encouraging growth."

One thing he said seemed important: "What I do know is, we're going to have to re-reduce the deductions pretty substantially for people at the high end, because I don't want to make the code less progressive."

On other topics:

--On debate performance: "I think President Obama and I both had a good chance to describe our respective views as to how we'd do a better job. And I, frankly, think I benefited from the fact that rather than having people learn about me from ads prepared by my opposition, they got to actually hear what I would do from myself.
And -- and I think that helped me."

--On Thursday's vice presidential debate: "You know, I -- I don't know how Paul will -- will deal with his debate.  Obviously, the vice president has done, I don't know, 15 or 20 debates during his lifetime, experienced debater. This is, uh, I think Paul's first debate.  I may be wrong.  He may have done something in high school, I don't know.
But it'll -- you know, it will be a new experience for a -- for Paul.  But I'm sure he'll do fine.  And, frankly, Paul has the facts on his side.  He has policy on his side.  And we also have results on our side."--

--On his comments recently that calling 47 percent of Americans "victims" was wrong: "Well, what I'm saying is that what words were that came out were not what I meant.  And what I mean, I think, people understand, is that if I'm president, I'll be president of 100 percent of the people.  My whole campaign is about helping the middle class have rising incomes and more jobs and helping get people out of poverty into the middle class."

On Israel: "There's no daylight between the United States and Israel.  We have coincident interests.  We share values.  And we're both absolutely committed to preventing Iranfrom having a nuclear weapon."


August 21, 2012

Treasury removes restrictions on earthquake relief in Iran

In a move that will bolster earthquake relief efforts in Iran, the Treasury Department Tuesday issued temporary general licenses to nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations that allow them to collect funds to be used directly for those efforts.

The Aug. 11 earthquake that hit the northwest region of the country has left 50,000 people homeless, said David Elliott, the assistant policy director at the National Iranian American Council. 

Previously, NGOs had to apply for a special license in order to engage in earthquake relief efforts.

“We’re very pleased to see this general license,” Elliott said. “It means more organizations can provide relief assistance more quickly.”

The general licenses are valid for the next 45 days and allow NGOs to transfer funds up to $300,000 to Iran to be used for humanitarian relief and reconstruction. The license prohibits any involvement with people or organizations that support terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

“This will . . . show the Iranian people that the American people care about them, and that this is a humanitarian issue that transcends politics,” Elliott said. “Even though the immediate aftermath of the earthquake is over, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

March 30, 2012

White House decides there's enough oil supply to tighten sanctions on Iran

The White House today said it's determined there's enough supply of petroleum from countries other than Iran to move forward with further sanctions against the regime.

The administration said it made the determination despite a February analysis that indicated that the oil market became "increasingly tight over the first two months of 2012" and that "international concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities...are contributing to an increased demand for non-Iranian crude oil.

"Nonetheless," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement, "there currently appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to significantly reduce their import of Iranian oil."

The determination comes as consumers increasingly grapple with rising gas prices -- in part caused by turbulence in the Middle East. But the U.S. is looking to tighten the screws on Iran in hopes of forcing the regime to start negogiating on its nuclear weapons ambitions.

March 05, 2012

Netanyahu says Tehran thinks U.S./Obama is the "Great Satan"

Meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to underline US/Israeli ties, telling Obama that the Iranian regime sees them linked:

"For them, you are the Great Satan, we're the Little Satan," he said. "For them, we are you and you are us. You know something Mr. President? At least on this last point I think they're right. We are you and you are us. We're together."

"If there's one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East it's that Israel and America stand together," he said.

Still, Netanyahu noted that -- as Obama said Sunday -- "Israel must have the ability, always, to defend itself, by itself against any threat. And that when it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the sovereign right to make its own decisions."


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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