Led by right-wing Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the House Foreign Affairs Committee today marked up and passed new legislation on U.S.-Iran policies. Amendments to the bill, H.R. 1905, included one that says, “No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that…is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran.” The president may request a waiver, but only with 15 days notice and if the contact averts an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.”
The restriction in the amendment basically criminalizes U.S. diplomacy. At Democracy Arsenal, Heather Hurlburt lists a few very recent contacts with Iran that would be considered illegal under Ros-Lehtinen’s restrictions:
U.S. and Iranian diplomats have been sharing a conference room discussing the political future of Iran’s neighbor Afghanistan this week. The New York Times reported that the Administration had quietly reached out to Iran to attempt to bring it into a political discussion around Afghanistan’s future stability. No more of that.
And the number three official at the State Department, Bill Burns, had a meeting with an Iranian counterpart that, among other topics, proved important in releasing the first of the three American hikers from Iranian custody.
So those contacts — banned, as far as the House Foreign Affairs committee is concerned. What, after all, “vital national security interests” are served by ending the imprisonment of one of the U.S. hikers?
Furthermore, Georgetown professor and former top intelligence analyst Paul Pillar points out that the restrictions could prevent progress on the most contentious issue between Iran and the West, the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, potentially heightening the likelihood of war:
It would prevent any exploration of ways to resolve disagreement over that Iranian nuclear program that we are supposedly so intensely concerned about… And it would prevent any diplomacy to keep U.S.-Iranian incidents or crises — the kind that retired joint chiefs chairman Admiral Mullen expressed concern about — from spinning out of control, unless the crisis conveniently stretched out beyond the fifteen-day notification period.
And the 15-day notification seems outrageously long. The National Iranian American Council’s Jamal Abdi wonders, “What if Kennedy had to wait 15 days for Congress’ permission to meet with the Soviets to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis — which lasted 13 days — from ending in nuclear war?” Indeed, Jim Lobe adds that the bill “eliminate(s) any doubt that its proponents want to involve the U.S. in yet another war in the Middle East.”