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March 14, 2015

The Real Story Behind The Republicans' Iran Letter

By Gareth Porter

Source:  Middle East Eye

The “open letter” from Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other Republican Senators to the
leader:  ship of Iran, which even Republicans themselves admit was aimed at
encouraging Iranian opponents of the nuclear negotiations to argue that the United
States cannot be counted on to keep the bargain, has created a new political
firestorm. It has been harshly denounced by Democratic loyalists as “stunning” and
"appalling”, and critics have accused the signers of the letter of being “treasonous”
for allegedly violating a law forbidding citizens from negotiating with a foreign power.

But the response to the letter has primarily distracted public attention from the real
issue it raises: how the big funders of the Likud Party in Israel control Congressional
actions on Iran.

The infamous letter is a ham-handed effort by Republican supporters of the
Netanyahu government to blow up the nuclear negotiations between the United States
and Iran. The idea was to encourage Iranians to conclude that the United States
would not actually carry out its obligations under the agreement – i.e. the lifting of
sanctions against Iran. Cotton and his colleagues were inviting inevitable comparison
with the 1968 conspiracy by Richard Nixon, through rightwing campaign official Anna
Chenault, to encourage the Vietnamese government of President Nguyen Van Thieu
to boycott peace talks in Paris.

But while Nixon was plotting secretly to get Thieu to hold out for better terms under a
Nixon administration, the 47 Republican Senators were making their effort to sabotage
the Iran nuclear talks in full public scrutiny. And the interest served by the letter was
not that of a possible future president but of the Israeli government.

The Cotton letter makes arguments that are patently false. The letter suggested that
any agreement that lacked approval of Congress “is a mere executive agreement”, as
though such agreements are somehow of only marginal importance in US diplomatic
history. In fact, the agreements on withdrawal of US forces from both the wars in
Vietnam and in Iraq were not treaties but executive agreements.

Equally fatuous is the letter’s assertion that “future Congresses could modify the
terms of the agreement at any time”. Congress can nullify the agreement by passing
legislation that contradicts it but can’t renegotiate it. And the claim that the next
president could “revoke the agreement with the stroke of a pen”, ignores the fact that
the Iran nuclear agreement, if signed, will become binding international law through a
United Nations Security Council resolution, as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad
Javad Zarif has pointed out.

The letter has provoked the charge of “treason” against the signers and a demand for
charges against them for negotiating with a foreign government in violation of the
Logan Act. In a little over 24 hours, more than 200,000 people had signed a petition
on the White House website calling such charges to be filed.

But although that route may seem satisfying at first thought, it is problematic for both
legal and political reasons. The Logan Act was passed in 1799, and has never been
used successfully to convict anyone, mainly because it was written more than a
century before US courts created legal standards for the protection of first
amendment speech rights. And it is unclear whether the Logan Act was even meant to
apply to members of Congress anyway.
AIPAC marching orders

The more serious problem with focusing on the Logan Act, however, is that what
Cotton and his Republican colleagues were doing was not negotiating with a foreign
government but trying to influence the outcome of negotiations in the interest of a
foreign government. The premise of the Senate Republican reflected in the letter –
that Iran must not be allowed to have any enrichment capacity whatever – did not
appear spontaneously. The views that Cotton and the other Republicans have
espoused on Iran were the product of assiduous lobbying by Israeli agents of
influence using the inducement of promises of election funding and the threat of
support for the members’ opponents in future elections.

Those members of Congress don’t arrive at their positions on issues related to Iran
through discussion and debate among themselves. They are given their marching
orders by AIPAC lobbyists, and time after time, they sign the letters and vote for
legislation or resolution that they are given, as former AIPAC lobbyist MJ Rosenberg
has recalled. This Israeli exercise of control over Congress on Iran and issues of
concern to Israel resembles the Soviet direction of its satellite regimes and loyal
Communist parties more than any democratic process, but with campaign
contributions replacing the inducements that kept its bloc allies in line.
Cotton's loyalty to Israel

Rosenberg has reasoned that AIPAC must have drafted the letter and handed it to
Senator Cotton. “Nothing happens on Capitol Hill related to Israel,” he tweets, “unless
and until Howard Kohr (AIPAC chief) wants it to happen. Nothing.” AIPAC apparently
supported the letter, but there may be more to the story. Senator Cotton just happens
to be a protégé of neoconservative political kingpin Bill Kristol, whose Emergency
Committee on Israel gave him nearly a million dollars late in his 2014 Senate
campaign and guaranteed that Cotton would have the support of the four biggest
funders of major anti-Iran organisations.

Cotton proved his absolute fealty to Likudist policy on Iran by sponsoring an
amendment to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 that would have punished
violators of the sanctions against Iran with prison sentences of up to 20 years and
extended the punishment to “a spouse and any relative, to the third degree” of the
sanctions violator. In presenting the amendment in the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, Cotton provided the useful clarification that it would have included
“parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great
grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids”.  

That amendment, which he apparently believed would best reflect his adoption of the
Israeli view of how to cut Iran down to size, was unsuccessful, but it established his
reliability in the eyes of the Republican Likudist kingmakers. Now Kristol is grooming
him to be the vice-presidential nominee in 2016.

So the real story behind the letter from Cotton and his Republican colleagues is how
the enforcers of Likudist policy on Iran used an ambitious young Republican politician
to try to provoke a breakdown in the Iran nuclear negotiations. The issue it raises is a
far more serious issue than the Logan Act, but thus far major news organisations
have steered clear of that story.

- Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012
Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured
Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect
the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to assembled members of
the United States Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, USA on 3 March, 2015