Corker and Menendez Bills Aim to Derail Iran Negotiations

Jim Lobe reports that the bills attempt to assert Congressional power to undermine an agreement with Iran

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

The Republican Party, using Congress to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak and thus directly attack President Obama’s foreign policy, specifically his negotiations with Iran, is not all the Republicans are doing to try to direct or take control of U.S. foreign policy. There’s a bill that’s been introduced called the Corker Bill.

Now joining us to talk about that is Jim Lobe. Jim joins us Washington, D.C., and he is the executive editor of LobeLog.com.

Thanks for joining us.

JIM LOBE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, LOBELOG: It’s a pleasure, Paul.

JAY: So what is the Corker Bill? What are they trying to achieve with this?

LOBE: Well, the Corker Bill is one of two bills that are pending currently before Congress. The other one is Kirk Menendez, and we can talk about that a bit later. That’s the sanctions bill. The Corker Bill isn’t–while isn’t being debated is a sanctions bill, in a general sense it’s being depicted as asserting the right of Congress and the responsibility of Congress to review a nuclear deal of this magnitude. That is, it is the way for Congress to say yay or nay or nothing about an eventual deal that’s negotiated between the so-called P5+1, which means the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and Iran.

So its general purpose is to ensure Congress’s so-called right of review of such a deal. In reality, many of its specific provisions appear designed to essentially derail a deal.

JAY: Back up for a second.

LOBE: Yes.

JAY: What right does Congress have to review such a deal? It’s not a treaty, so why does Congress get to say anything about it?

LOBE: Well, it’s not clear it all what right Congress has to say about this, because normally this would be entirely within the executive branch’s discretion. And Congress always has and always has had the ability to show its disapproval of an international agreement simply by denying funds to implement such an agreement to the executive branch. That is, there’s no limit on Congress’s ability to say what it wants about just about anything that the executive branch does and then to enforce what it wants or what it doesn’t want through the power of the purse.

JAY: So they have–Netanyahu comes and tries to prepare American public opinion against this deal and they have some legislation where they can actually try to derail it. The Corker Bill is Senator Corker, who’s head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Menendez Bill is to actually threaten sanctions if there’s no deal by the end of March, sanctions that, if were implemented, I assume would kill any deal.

LOBE: Well, that’s the assumption that is generally shared around Washington. Menendez is also a cosponsor of the Corker Bill, and Menendez gave this kind of stemwinder of a speech last night to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee conference of 16,000 people right after Susan Rice.

So he is a Democrat. He’s the former chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. And he’s clearly in the camp that wants Iran, essentially, to surrender on Israeli demands with respect to Iran’s nuclear program and is thus aligned very closely with the Republican leadership on this issue.

JAY: Netanyahu in his speech says the alternative to what he calls a bad deal is not war. He says the alternative is a better deal, which means Iran completely concedes on everything and has no right to any kind of nuclear enrichment program whatsoever. That doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. So, in fact, what is his real alternative?

LOBE: Well, I think that’s one of the things that Netanyahu really, really failed to address in a serious fashion in his speech both today and yesterday. I mean, it’s fine to say, you know, stop negotiating and call their bluff, that is, dare the Iranians to walk away from the table, and then escalate your demands to complete dismantlement of the nuclear program. And as he said something about, well, as in a Persian bazaar, a kind of in my opinion kind of rather ethnically charged expression, they’ll come back and negotiate and be willing to negotiate on better terms, because in his view they need–they, the Iranians, need a deal more than the United States, which is what he kept repeating.

I think that’s an unrealistic position. I don’t know any Iran expert in Washington, D.C., aside from a couple of people who are closely identified with neoconservatives, who believes that. They believe that if the United States escalates its demands, Iran will walk away from the table and the United States will be blamed for sabotaging the talks.

JAY: It seems to me that if you listen to all the various scientific opinion about the deal and about the state of the nuclear program in Iran, including the American national intelligence estimate, in terms of the scientific evidence that’s been produced by the inspectors of the IAEA, that most of this talk about imminent breakout of Iran is really hot air, that it doesn’t really exist. In fact, the American intelligence agency estimate said there’s actually no nuclear weapons program at all, that such a thing doesn’t exist, and I don’t think they’ve changed that estimate. Then you’re left with what does Netanyahu really want. And it seems to me what he really wants is a continuation of economic warfare against Iran. He just wants sanctions to continue in order to keep Iran as weak as possible.

LOBE: Well, I’d agree pretty much with your conclusion, Paul, but I’m not sure I’d agree entirely with the premise. That is to say, Iran is building a pretty formidable nuclear infrastructure, which, if they wished, could result in the construction of a nuclear bomb. But the intelligence community’s analysis says that they have not decided to produce a nuclear weapon. But there is a consensus that if they wish to produce a nuclear weapon, they could produce a nuclear weapon or a nuclear bomb. They don’t have the means to deliver such a bomb at this point, but they could produce a bomb within a relatively short period of time. Under current conditions, say, if the restraints that were imposed by the agreement of November 2013 were removed, they could produce, in theory, a nuclear weapon or the fissile material needed for a nuclear weapon within a couple of months. The administration’s objective is to try to stretch that period to one year under a comprehensive agreement.

But I agree with you. Israel knows very well what Iran’s capabilities are. And I think probably the main goal is to keep Iran as weak as possible, because the view is that the stronger–the view, at least by Netanyahu, is that the stronger Iran becomes, the weaker Israel’s position in the region will be. And it’s a kind of zero-sum game.

JAY: Yeah, I mean, that’s what it really seems to be about, regional politics dressed up as opposition to the nuclear program, because, again, every expert we’ve talked to says that if Iran actually ever did decide to make a bomb, there’s no way the IAEA inspectors wouldn’t know about it. They’d actually have to throw them out and withdraw from the Non-Proliferation agreement, because taking that next step–in fact, Netanyahu more or less states that himself when he gives the North Korean example in a speech. He says the North Koreans threw the inspectors out and then built a bomb. It suggests you have to do that to build the bomb.

LOBE: Yes, in effect, although the North Koreans probably–I mean, they had some secret facilities which enabled them to build a bomb if they wished anyway, and they may even have had the bomb before they threw out the inspectors, but that was because there were secret facilities.

Netanyahu tried to raise the specter of secret facilities. But, again, the Americans and the Europeans, who were negotiating this, are pretty confident that they will be able, with an enhanced inspection regime, to discover any attempt at such a diversion or the creation of secret laboratories. I mean, Iran is just heavily, heavily surveilled in ways that did not apply with North Korea at the time.

JAY: So really, then, it becomes about the issue of regional power. And in Netanyahu’s speech, he said two or three times, Iran gobbling up other countries, controlling other capitals. What do you make of that?

LOBE: Well, I don’t know. I mean, to me it’s kind of puzzling. You can make the same argument about Saudi Arabia, I mean, you know, or United Arab Emirates, I mean, that they–you know, we have more and more information about the–what was behind the coup that overthrew Morsi in Egypt. And we know that Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. have sent in troops into Bahrain to restore order there so that a minority Sunni monarchy can remain in power. And there’s intense competition in Syria.

I mean, the region, the entire region, is pretty much in chaos and has become a place where almost all of the regional powers are playing.

I mean, we wrote it, we published an article this week raising the question, for example, is Israel itself effectively supporting al-Qaeda in Syria, in the sense that there are more and more reports of al-Nusra, which is the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, as al-Nusra fighters are coming across the border in Golan, they’re receiving medical treatment, they’re going back? But there are more and more reports that intelligence is being shared. And then you have the January 18 attack by Israel on a Hezbollah column, in which a senior Iranian IRGC official was also killed. And the fact is al-Nusra more or less controls the border and has more or less a safe haven in along the Golan Heights next to Israel.

But Israel is not doing anything to weaken them. On the contrary, they have attacked those forces which are trying to attack al-Nusra.

So, in any event, in Syria, in Iraq, in other parts of the region, there is a lot of chaos, and there is a lot of external intervention in internal affairs of countries that are rapidly not becoming a countries anymore.

So Iran is part of all of–is one of the parties that has interests in other countries, certainly a neighboring Iraq, where it’s increasingly involved in fighting against the Islamic State, and along with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, other powers. So it’s not acting in a way that’s very inconsistent with that of other more powerful regional actors.

JAY: Just it’s acting in a way that is not in any alliance with Israel and challenges Israel. Saudi Arabia seems to be in somewhat of a lot of common interests with Israel these days.

LOBE: Yeah, and Netanyahu would like to make that very, very clear. I mean, the Israelis keep talking about how their interests are parallel to those of the Gulf, of the Sunni Gulf states, more and more. And you see that again along the border in Golan, where Israel is actually providing some assistance to the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria and trying to prevent Hezbollah and Syrian government troops from reclaiming the area close to its border.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Jim.

LOBE: Sure, Paul. My pleasure.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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