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Congress Trashes Diplomacy: U.S. Urged to Back Possible Israeli Strike Ahead of Talks With Iran

A joint resolution declaring U.S. support for Israel in the event of a military strike on Iran was introduced in the same week that diplomatic talks showed progress.

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In the same week that talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) concluded in Kazakhstan with rare positive Iranian feedback, a joint resolution declaring U.S. support for Israel in the event of an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear programme was brought before Congress.

The resolution, introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham and Robert Menendez and publicised in a press conference Thursday on Capitol Hill, will reportedly be a focus of the widely attended American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington next week.

According to a copy obtained by IPS, the “sense of the Congress” resolution “Urges that, if Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to our ally in defense of its territory, people, and existence.”

“The resolution reiterates strong support for Israel and concern with Iran’s nuclear research – two sentiments no one would argue,” Heather Hurlburt, director of the National Security Network, told IPS.

“Those who vote on it will understand that it is hortatory and doesn’t have any effect on U.S. national security decision-making, but that may not be so clear to observers overseas,” continued Hurlburt, a former staffer in Madeleine Albright’s State Department under President Bill Clinton.

“It’s critical that the U.S. be seen to retain decision-making flexibility as negotiations seem to be moving toward a more sensitive phase,” she said.

This week in Almaty the P5+1 softened their “stop, shut and ship” offer presented last spring by asking Iran to “suspend” enrichment of uranium to 20 percent while using its existing stockpile for nuclear fuel and modifying equipment at its Fordow facility rather than permanently closing it.

This, in addition to increased IAEA monitoring, would result in slight sanctions relief that will not impact existing oil or financial sanctions, a U.S. diplomat told Al-Monitor.

Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili called the talks “a positive step” in a statement published on Mehr News.

“Some of the points raised in their respond [sic] were more realistic comparing to what they said in the past…which we believe is positive, despite the fact that we have a long way to reach to the optimum point,” said Jalili.

“There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about outcome of the Almaty talks,” Kelsey Davenport, a nonproliferation analyst at the Arms Control Association, told IPS.

“If press accounts are accurate, I think that the revised proposal reflects a move toward a more balanced interim step that addresses the most urgent concerns on both sides; namely sanctions relief for Iran and for the P5+1, it would limit the size of Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent,” she said.

But the non-binding resolution presented Thursday is unlikely to go unnoticed by the Iranians, who will reportedly present a response to the P5+1’s revised offer during another meeting set for Mar. 16 in Istanbul, Turkey.

“If the Senate moves forward with this, they risk sending the signal to the Iranians that, no matter what was said at Almaty, the U.S. does not have its own house in order to make a deal and is not serious about resolving the nuclear dispute peacefully,” Jamal Abdi, policy director of the National Iranian American Council, told IPS.

“The same senators and organisations sponsoring this resolution would make this exact argument to halt further negotiations were Tehran to take such a provocative step in the midst of talks,” he said.

The resolution follows a bipartisan bill presented on Wednesday that seeks to make it the policy of the U.S. to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability — contrasting with President Obama’s previous declarations that the U.S. will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon – and to broaden and tighten existing sanctions on Iran.

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