Republican Senate leaders were forced to water down a resolution calling on the White House to prevent Iran from being able to build nuclear weapons, for fear they would not get the bipartisan backing they needed to make it effective.
GOP leaders, led by South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham
, wanted to include language that would have threatened military force against the Islamic Republic, but had to drop the saber-rattling.
“I'm trying to build a bipartisan consensus around something we all believe in,” Graham said when asked why he had toned down the language. The Jewish news service, JTA, said that Democrats had asked that the resolution should specifically say that the resolution did not authorize military action, but Graham refused.
The resolution comes as tensions between Iran and the United States and Israel continue to rise. Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated within the country, acts that Tehran blames on Israel. Then this week Israeli diplomats were targeted for attack in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, India and Thailand and Israel pointed the finger at the mullahs.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that Iran is a major threat to America. “Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, and it is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile force, many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload," he said.
“Iran's technical advancement, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthens our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so," Clapper added.
Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency told the committee the country is “not close to agreeing” to abandon its nuclear program.
However there was a small glimmer of hope on Friday after Iran wrote to the European Union saying it was willing to reopen stalled talks on the program. After a meeting with EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the reply as “one we have been waiting for,” but cautioned that it was too early to know if Tehran was serious.
“We must be assured that if we make a decision to go forward, we see a sustained effort by Iran to come to the table to work until we have reached an outcome that has Iran coming back into compliance with their international obligations,” Clinton said.
In the end, 32 senators, virtually one-third of the upper chamber, put their name to the resolution which is co-sponsored by Graham, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
The resolution “affirms that it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.” It seeks to shift the American line from stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon to preventing the country from acquiring the capability to build one, putting the country in line with Israel’s policy, reported JTA.
The language Graham originally used would have affirmed “that it is within the power and capabilities of the United States Government to prevent the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.”
“They couldn’t find any Democratic co-sponsors until they addressed those concerns,” Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network, a liberal think tank, told JTA.
Despite the more moderate language, Lieberman said Iran can still expect the use of force if it presses forward with its nuclear plans. “We 32 original sponsors of this U.S. Senate resolution want to say clearly and resolutely to Iran: You have only two choices – peacefully negotiate to end your nuclear weapons program or expect a military strike to end that program,” he said.
But even so, JTA said key Israel supporters in the Democrat camp, including Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Barbara Boxer of California have not signed on. The 32 signatories include 17 Republicans, 14 Democrats and Lieberman.
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