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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (July 15 - August 11, 2016)

Bipartisan Senate Letter Urges Full Missile Defense Funding for Israel

Thirty-six senators, including 19 Republicans and 17 Democrats, sent a bipartisan letter on July 26 to their colleagues working to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in support of fully funding U.S.-Israel missile defense for the 2017 fiscal year.

Authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the letter states the senators’ belief that “fully funding U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs at $601 million, as funded in the House-passed NDAA, is a level that will allow Israel to fully meet its national security requirements.”

The bipartisan effort comes as lawmakers from both chambers have begun discussions in a conference committee to reconcile the Senate- and House-passed versions of the annual bill to authorize the Pentagon’s programs. The House-passed version includes $601 million, $112 million more than last year. Due to procedural obstacles, the Senate-passed version of the bill only authorizes $281 million in U.S.-Israel cooperative missile defense funding, although the full funding levels enjoy broad support among Senate conferees. The letter calls for the conferees to include in their final conference report the amount authorized by the House of Representatives.

The letter also advocates for a “bicameral, bipartisan” approach to fund bilateral missile defense programs including Iron Dome, David’s Sling and the Arrow Weapon System.

“Amid growing rocket and missile threats in the Middle East, it is prudent for the United States and Israel to advance and accelerate bilateral cooperation on missile defense technologies,” wrote the senators. “We therefore urge you to fully fund U.S.-Israeli joint missile defense programs so that Israel can continue to develop and improve the three cooperative missile defense programs, as well as to purchase sufficient Iron Dome systems, including co-production of these systems in the United States, for protecting Israel’s population against growing missile and rocket threats in the region.”

Senators Advocate for Increased Transparency in IAEA Iran Reports

On July 15, a group of 15 Democratic senators—all of whom supported the JCPOA— led by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to encourage increased transparency when reporting on Iran’s nuclear program.

"In addition to lacking vital information on the status of Iran's uranium stock and enrichment capabilities, the report leaves out vital details on Iranian facilities. The report does not comment on the progress made in transitioning Fordow to a research facility or provide updates on the redesign of the Arak heavy water research reactor. This data is critical for ensuring the ability to independently verify Iran's compliance," wrote the senators.

“Providing additional situational awareness of Iran's nuclear program is vital for the long-term health of this agreement,” they continued, “We urge your administration to ensure that the IAEA releases all relevant technical information so that we may continue to make our own judgments about the status of Iran's nuclear program."

The most recent IAEA report notes that Iran is currently in compliance with its obligations under the nuclear agreement, but according to Sen. Peters, the report “does not include key technical details, including the total quantity of low enriched uranium in Iran, the amount produced since prior reports, details on the number of centrifuges used for enrichment, and centrifuge research and development.”

Treasury Department Designates as Terrorists Three Senior Al-Qaida Members in Iran

On July 20, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated three Iran-based senior al-Qaida members as global terrorists pursuant to Executive Order 13224, making them subject to a wide array of financial sanctions by the U.S.

Faisal Jassim Mohammed Al-Amri Al-Khalidi, Yisra Muhammad Ibrahim Bayumi and Abu Bakr Muhammad Muhammad Ghumayn were responsible for providing financial and logistical support to al-Qaida, helping the organization to “move money and operatives from South Asia and across the Middle East.”

Specifically, Al-Khalidi served as al-Qaida’s Military Commission Chief in Iran, Bayumi worked as a mediator with Iranian authorities, and Ghumayn oversaw the group’s financing and organization.

“Today’s action sanctions senior al-Qaida operatives responsible for moving money and weapons across the Middle East,” said Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin.

Leading Members of Congress Denounce Leaked Secret Document Linked to Iran Nuclear Deal

The chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee spoke out against a secret document that reveals the easing of key restrictions on Iran's nuclear program years before the sunset of the Joint Comprehensive of Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The document—disclosed by an unnamed diplomat to the Associated Press—exposes that Tehran can commence installing advanced centrifuges in years 11 to 13 of the 15-year accord. These centrifuges will be up to five times as efficient as the 5,060 currently permitted, reportedly doubling Iran’s ability to enrich uranium.

The document is one of at least two side-agreements linked to the JCPOA that have not been made public. The other agreement addressed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s now closed investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

In a July 18 press statement, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) said the leaked document affirms that the JCPOA “leaves Iran just a short step from a nuclear bomb.”

“As many warned, and this document highlights, this fatally flawed deal gives Iran permanent sanctions relief and the right to industrial nuclear capabilities. In ten years, this terrorist regime will be able to race toward a nuclear weapon. They won’t even have to cheat to be just a sprint from a bomb,” said Royce.

On July 19, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) underscored that the document’s details confirmed why he opposed the nuclear deal last year.

“The details in these documents—which my colleagues and I had access to very early on—were among the many reasons I opposed this nuclear deal,” said Corker. “As many of us warned, Iran can continue to research advanced centrifuges and will be able to industrialize their nuclear capability when many of the restrictions end in 10 years.”

Senior Members of Congress Denounce Reported U.S. Payment to Iran

Senior members of Congress have raised concerns with the U.S. payment to the Iranian regime that coincided with the January release of four American detained in Iran.

On August 2, The Wall Street Journal cited high-ranking U.S. and European officials who claimed that the Obama administration covertly ordered an airlift of the equivalent of $400 million in foreign currencies to Iran around the same time that four Americans held prisoner in Tehran were freed.

Following the news report, The Wall Street Journal revealed that senior Justice Department officials objected to the cash payment over concerns that the transfer would be viewed by Iran as a ransom payment.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) responded to the revelation, stating, “[The payment] would also mark another chapter in the ongoing saga of misleading the American people to sell this dangerous nuclear deal. Yet again, the public deserves an explanation of the lengths this administration went to in order to accommodate the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that “bad behavior should be punished, not subsidized…Paying Iran behind our backs, incentivizing further kidnappings of Americans while providing funds for terrorism, is as ignorant as it is wrong,” said McCarthy.

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-AZ) called the news reports “disturbing.”

“Money is fungible,” said McCain, “The Iranian regime now has an additional $400 million to support Bashar Assad’s slaughter of people in Syria; to fund militias and terrorists in places like Iraq and Yemen; to funnel arms to terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that seek to destroy the state of Israel, and to buy advanced military capabilities to threaten the United States and our regional partners.”

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA) questioned the “logistics of this payment” to Iran.

“Hundreds of millions in the pockets of a terrorist regime means a more dangerous region, period.  And paying ransom only puts more American lives in jeopardy,” said Royce.

Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Richard Burr (R-NC) condemned the alleged payment, calling Iran “the number one state sponsor of terrorism.”

Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees U.S. sanctions policy, Richard Shelby (R-AL) said on social media that secretly sending $400 million to Iran on an unmarked cargo plane is “extremely reckless.”

The Obama administration denies that the payment to Iran was linked to the freeing of the American prisoners. 

In a press conference on Aug. 4, President Obama defended the payment, stating, “The reason cash was exchanged is because we don't have a banking relationship with Iran, which is precisely part of the pressure that we were able to apply to them. So that they would ship a whole bunch of nuclear material out and close down a bunch of facilities that, as I remember, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, was people's top fear and priority, that we make sure that Iran doesn't have breakout nuclear capacity. They don't. This worked.”

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