House debates rejecting Iran ‘containment’

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The U.S. House of Representatives debated a resolution that rejects containment of a nuclear Iran.

The non-binding resolution debated Tuesday evening "strongly supports United States policy to prevent the government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran; and urges the president to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat."

President Obama in recent months has made explicit his opposition to "containment" and his preference for "prevention."

The resolution, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has 314 sponsors. The House did not immediately vote on the resolution, rolling over debate until Wednesday,

A similar bill in the Senate introduced by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has 74 co-sponsors but has yet to be introduced to the floor.

The House resolution was debated under suspension rules, meaning there was no opportunity to amend it.

Americans for Peace Now had urged Congress members in a letter to amend the resolution to make explicit that it did not authorize use of force and to substitute "acquisition of weapons" for "acquiring a nuclear capability." APN argued that "capability" is too vague a term to establish a "red line" triggering military action.

Israel’s "red line" is nuclear capability, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been seeking the same commitment from the Obama administration. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes. The status of its suspected nuclear weapons program is not preciseley known, although in recent days some reports have suggested that the Iranians have achieved the capability to manufacture weapons.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) urged the U.S. and Israel on Monday to align their "red lines" on what would trigger a military strike on Iran, The Hill newspaper reported.

McCain, speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, did not elaborate on what the "red lines" should be.

A report released Tuesday by the Rand Corp., a think tank that has strong Pentagon ties, strongly recommended against an Israeli or U.S. military strike on Iran and suggested that containment, while "dangerous," would be preferable.

"An Israeli or American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would make it more, not less, likely that the Iranian regime would decide to produce and deploy nuclear weapons. Such an attack would also make it more, not less, difficult to contain Iranian influence," it said. "To prevent the rivalry between Israel and Iran from escalating into armed conflict, the United States should continue to discourage an Israeli military strike while strengthening Israeli capabilities in preparation for a future in which Iran may have managed to acquire nuclear weapons. U.S. leaders should bolster security cooperation and intelligence sharing with Israel while maintaining pressure on Iran, thus weakening its capacity to project power and fueling the debate within Iran over nuclear weapons."

Separately, the Senate passed an amendment to a bill reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank Act that would ban any assistance to companies that violate Iran sanctions. 

In a news release, the amendment’s sponsors, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said that under its provisions, $900 million provided in 2007-08 by the bank in loan guarantees and other assistance to Reliance Industries in India would not have been possible, as that company sells refined petroleum products to Iran.

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