Obama administration is likely to fold on AIPAC-backed legislation it opposed targeting Iran

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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The Senate just passed the Defense Authorization Act, which in addition to allowing indefinite detention of alleged terrorists, contains an Iran sanctions measure that I wrote about last week.

That amendment passed the Senate 100-0, even though the White House vigorously opposed it, saying it would hike oil prices. But the Israel lobby organization AIPAC pushed it; and Timothy Geithner’s opposition, and that of other high Obama aides, meant nothing in the end.

Obama is now expected to sign the law; and so it appears that the administration has folded on these sanctions– which target the Central Bank of Iran– rather than get into a public battle that it will lose, with political consequences.

Pressed by Matt Lee of the Associated Press to offer an opinion of the legislation, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland declined to do so yesterday. “We’ve been working with the Congress on it. I’m not going to comment on our view of the final bill until it becomes law.”

Lee said the administration was being “irresponsible.”

“In essence, Lee was pressing Nuland to admit that the administration is being bullied into accepting Iran sanctions law it doesn’t want. Nuland was not about to admit that,” summarized Josh Rogin at the Cable.

Here is the testy dialogue between Nuland and Lee at the State Department briefing yesterday. I’ve included the back-and-forth over settler pricetag attacks on Palestinians. Again, the State Department has nothing specific to say about them either– regarding them as an “internal Israel issue.” Yes, in occupied territory. 

MS. NULAND: Well, again, the bill is not law yet, so if and when it does become law, then we’re going to have to look very carefully. And I can’t, frankly, at this point, speculate on what kinds of procedures and applications might be called for in this case. So frankly, I’m going to disappoint you; I don’t have much more than we had yesterday on this, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, does the Administration support it or are you still – do you still think it’s flawed and it restricts your ability – your flexibility?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’re not going to comment any further than the comments we made at the front end of this process until we see the law that emerges and we think about implementation. So I’m sorry to —

QUESTION: So you’re not going to say anything about it until after it’s too late?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think we’ve been clear about this. We’ve been working with the Congress on it, but I’m not going to —

QUESTION: No, in fact, you haven’t been clear about it, and I think that the other one-third of the government, which is the Congress, would like – as well as the rest of us – would like to know what the Administration thinks about it, especially given the fact that this President came in promising unprecedented transparency.

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we made clear our concerns early on. We’ve been working with —

QUESTION: Yes, but have those concerns been addressed?

MS. NULAND: We’ve been working with the Congress on it. I’m not going to comment on our view of the final bill until it becomes law.

QUESTION: But that – by then, it’s too late. So have your concerns been addressed by the changes that were made by the – in the conference committee?

MS. NULAND: As I’ve said, I’m not going to have any further comment on this at this stage.


QUESTION: So you’re not – so you’re going to wait until after it becomes law to say that you don’t or you do agree with it? Are you worried that you’re somehow – you’re worried that this is going to signal somehow whether the President vetoes it?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’ve had plenty of conversation —

QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand. The Administration —

MS. NULAND: I understand that you don’t understand.

QUESTION: — puts out all the time statements of Administration policy on legislation that’s before the Hill. You made your concerns about the initial legislation known to the Hill. That was not a secret. And I want to know whether those concerns have been met. It’s a simple, very simple, yes-or-no question, and I think it’s an obligation of the executive to make public what it thinks about whether a law is appropriate or whether it is inappropriate.

MS. NULAND: And again, this is in bill form now. It is not yet a law. We will make our views known after it’s the law and after we’ve had a chance to work through it. And we’re not at that stage yet, Matt. I’m sorry that’s disappointing today.

QUESTION: There’s a vote today.

MS. NULAND: I understand that.

QUESTION: No, it’s not disappointing. I think it’s irresponsible.

MS. NULAND: Well, that is – you are welcome to that opinion.


QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. Do you have any comment on the burning of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem today by settlers, a very well-known settler? It was, matter of fact, Baruch Marzel.

MS. NULAND: We do, in fact. We condemn in strongest possible terms today’s burning and vandalizing of the mosque in Jerusalem. There is never any justification for an attack on a place of worship. We have called for calm on the part of all parties. We would also note that the Israeli Government has pledged to investigate these attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice. We also encourage local authorities to work together with the communities to reduce tension and to defend religious freedom.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, the Israelis have disallowed worshipers from attending to a number of mosques in Jerusalem under the pretext that they are Islamic endowment and some sort of convoluted law that goes back into Jordan, let’s say, and whatever trusteeship over the holy places and all that stuff. Would you call on Israel to allow people to sort of repair and to do some refurbishing of these mosques that are basically falling apart?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, I can’t speak to these specific mosques that you’re referring to, Said. I don’t have information about this law that you’re talking about. But in general, you know that we support the freedom of religion. We support access to places of worship, et cetera, so —

QUESTION: Okay. Now, to follow up just on recent sister activities, there’s a great deal of activity under the name of “price tag” that the settlers are doing, and they are trying to make a point to the Israeli Government that if you withdraw from the settlement, this is what we are going to do. As we have seen last week, they have actually crossed into Jordanian territory and so on. So do you think – do you believe that perhaps these – the settler activity is a result of not taking any kind of strong action against settlements?

MS. NULAND: A result of Israeli Government policy?

QUESTION: A result of, let’s say, even the United States Government not taking a very strong position on settlement activities?

MS. NULAND: A result of United States policy?

QUESTION: Well, it’s Israel and —

MS. NULAND: It sounds like an internal Israeli issue to me.

QUESTION: I mean, this is a – the settlements – you issue statements about the – how it is not helpful in the peace process, but in fact, they are illegal, and perhaps if the United States Government and other European governments and so on take a position that they remain illegal, perhaps they can stem that kind of emboldened settlement activities.

MS. NULAND: We have made absolutely clear where we are on settlements. We’ve also made clear that we don’t support violence or desecration of any kind, so – but I certainly can’t speak to what’s motivating the settler activity. That’s a question for them.

QUESTION: And last week, the Israeli army fired a tear gas at a peaceful demonstrator. They killed him, they shut the door, and they went on with no investigation whatsoever. And today, there as a fatwa issued by four rabbis that actually called on the Israeli army to kill Palestinians that may be throwing stones. Do you have a position on that?

MS. NULAND: First of all, I’ve never heard of rabbis issuing fatwahs, but if —

QUESTION: Well, you know what I mean. I’m saying – (laughter). Fatwah is an Islamic word that’s become to mean an edict, you know.

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