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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (March 12, 2016 - April 13, 2016)

Members of Congress Voice Opposition to Allowing Iran Access to the U.S. Dollar

Members of Congress from both parties are continuing to voice opposition to reports that the administration is considering loosening sanctions on Iran and granting it the ability to conduct limited transactions in U.S. dollars.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a statement warning against allowing Iran to gain access to the U.S. financial system.

"These reports are deeply concerning, to say the least. As Iran continues to undermine the spirit of its nuclear agreement with illicit ballistic missile tests, the Obama administration is going out of its way to help Tehran reopen for business. The president should abandon this idea," said Ryan.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) released a statement expressing opposition to providing Iran access to the U.S. financial system.

"I am deeply troubled by reports that the Administration may provide Iran access to the U.S. financial system, either directly or through some offshore mechanism...This all seems to stem from Iranian displeasure with the lack of foreign investment following the nuclear deal—which is a direct result of the nature of the regime and its actions abroad in the non-nuclear space."

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) released a statement warning against granting Iran additional relief "without a corresponding concession. We lose leverage otherwise, and Iran receives something for free."

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urging the Treasury Department to block Iranian access to U.S. dollars.

"We request corresponding assurances from you that the United States will not issue a general license authorizing 'U-turn transactions' for Iran, in which a U.S. bank processes a transaction for a foreign financial institution on behalf of Iran while the Iranian part of the transaction does not touch the U.S. financial system directly."

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) stated, "So long as Iran continues to finance terrorism and advance its ballistic missile program, I will work to maintain current policies that prevent Iran from using the U.S. financial system."

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) called on the Treasury Department to not allow Iran to conduct business with the U.S. dollar.

"At a time when Iran is funding terrorism across the region, pursuing a destabilizing ballistic missile program, and threatening Israel's existence, the Administration should not consider allowing it access to our financial system," Bennet stated.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), joined by 20 other members of Congress, sent a letter to Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew calling on the administration to reconsider easing Iran sanctions.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) stated, “The Iranians bargained for certain sanctions relief. Your Administration has been meticulous in its regulatory actions to provide exactly that relief. Irrespective of the additional economic windfall that dollar clearing may provide – and this could be significant – the Iranians and all other parties to the agreement should simply receive the benefit of that bargain. Otherwise, I believe this will set bad precedent, and it will not be the last time the Iranians and/or their business partners receive additional relief not contemplated by the JCPOA or UNSCR 2231. I hope the press reports are inaccurate. If they are not, I strongly urge you to reconsider.”

Click here to see a full list of statements.

United States Enhances Energy Agreement with Israel

On April 4, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz signed new provisions that bolster energy cooperation between the United States and Israel.

Concluded while Secretary Moniz was visiting Israel, the deal strengthens ties in fossil fuel and renewable energy production, smart grid technologies,  protection of energy and water infrastructure against physical, cyber and electromagnetic attack, and areas within the energy-water nexus.

The agreement also encourages collaboration between U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories and Israeli research centers, previously authorized by the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014.

The following day, the United States and Israel announced that they will begin granting scholarships for energy postdoctoral students as part of a bilateral research exchange program. As one of the three provisions in the enhanced energy agreement, the new program will bolster science and technology collaboration between the two nations.

Bipartisan Letter to Energy Secretary: Establish U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence

On April 1, Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz in support of the U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in Energy and Water.

In the bipartisan letter, the representatives urged the Department of Energy to launch the “first-of-its kind” center, which was authorized by Congress in the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014. The center would increase bilateral energy ties by cultivating student and faculty exchange programs, collaborative research initiatives, industry partnership, and technology transfers, among other things.

“A Center of Excellence at the Department of Energy is essential to promote important and collaborative technological innovation between Israel and the United States. We can use that type of innovation to address the drought with advanced water technology as well as further the energy sector,” said Rep. McNerney.

“America has no greater ally than Israel, and we should take every opportunity to increase the cooperation between our two countries—especially when it comes to critical issues like energy,” Rep. Scalise added.

Members of Congress Request Funding for U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation

Members of Congress have called for additional funding as part of the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperative Agreement in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017.

On March 15, a group of 135 representatives sent a bipartisan letter to Reps. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, calling for continued funding for binational energy cooperation with Israel.

Led by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Peter King (R-NY), the representatives wrote that “continued funding for the program will provide for collaborative U.S. and Israeli research and development efforts in areas critical to both the United States and Israel and unite our countries in the pursuit of increased energy security, energy independence and water efficiency.”

On March 11, a bipartisan group of 21 senators sent a similar letter to Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, requesting “at least $2 million, and up to $5 million” for the agreement.

The letter, led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), declared that “collaboration between the American and Israeli private sector and academia will significantly enhance U.S. efforts to develop alternative technologies and increase energy efficiency, to the benefit of our national security.”

Former Senators Urge Senate Appropriations Committee to Support Foreign Aid

On April 4, a group of 20 former senators sent a bipartisan letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee leadership highlighting the importance of a robust international affairs budget.

The letter, led by former Senate Majority Leaders William Frist and Thomas Daschle, calls on the Senate committee to protect the international affairs budget from increased cuts. It also stresses that foreign aid is crucial to support America’s closest allies, including Israel.

“For just 1% of the federal budget, these programs are cost-effective investments that enable the United States to support allies like Israel and Jordan, respond to humanitarian crises, and promote U.S. interests abroad. To that end, we believe strongly that the International Affairs Budget is a critical component to our overall national security strategy and urge you to protect these programs from further cuts,” wrote the former senators.

Senators Urge Increased Missile Defense Investments for U.S. Allies

On March 22, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Ranking Member Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and the subcommittee’s Chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) sent a letter to the president emphasizing the need to increase missile defense capabilities to U.S. allies, including Israel, in wake of Iran’s continued regional aggression.

The senators underscored that missile defense programs should be prioritized in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.

“In a time of limited resources, we must prioritize investments in U.S. missile defense systems, maintain our long-standing and critical missile defense partnership with Israel, and leverage new partnerships to support our shared security interests,” wrote the senators.

“We must confront the hard reality that Iran already possesses the Middle East’s largest ballistic missile arsenal and is determined to continue advancing ballistic and cruise missile capabilities to threaten our deployed forces, our homeland, and our allies. Iran’s reckless provocations are destabilizing and pose a significant threat to the national security interests of the United States and our allies in the Middle East.”

Click here to read the full text of the letter.

U.S.-Israel Cyber Security Cooperation to Increase

On March 14, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon agreed to increase U.S-Israel ties in the cyber domain.

According to a Department of Defense (DoD) press release, Sec. Carter reaffirmed America’s “unshakeable commitment to the security of Israel and the importance of the U.S.-Israel defense relationship.”

“Following the October visit of Minister Ya'alon to Washington, the secretary and the minister discussed a number of ways to further strengthen cooperation on a range of issues including regional security,” said the DoD. “The secretary and the minister also discussed developments in the region and agreed to continue to work closely to maintain the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

As the existing U.S. security assistance to Israel expires in 2018, discussions between the two allies are underway to conclude a new package. During his visit, Ya’alon told the media that he hopes the two nations will “finalize the aid agreement with the U.S. as soon as possible, during the terms of the current administration.”

Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report