Pro-Iran groups scramble to respond as bipartisan House and Senate letters gain momentum

  • Pro-Iran groups scramble to respond as bipartisan House and Senate letters gain momentum

  • Kerry comments on "Jewish state" recognition generate controversy, confusion

  • AP: Hamas in downward financial spiral, "worst economic crisis" since seizing the Gaza Strip

  • Report: Turkey controversy ensnares allies, global financial partners in sanctions-busting "gas-for-gold" Iran trade



Pro-Iran groups - including one that has been blasted by members of Congress for peddling "propaganda put out by the Iranian regime" - are scrambling to position themselves, as bipartisan Congressional letters from both the House of Representatives and the Senate regarding negotiations with Iran gain traction. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) on Thursday issued a statement downplaying its stance on recent Congressional letters related to Iran, noting that the group opposed one of them and had remained neutral on the others. Both of the letters are meanwhile being actively supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which describes them as "lay[ing] out the acceptable parameters of a final agreement, including the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons program" in light of President Barack Obama's pledge that "any agreement must 'make it impossible [for Iran] to develop a nuclear weapon.'" The letters have been gaining momentum and coverage in recent weeks, with outlets from across the political spectrum conveying various details. The Senate letters calls on the President to ensure that Congress play "an outsize role... in Iran no matter the result of ongoing nuclear talks," while the House letter more specifically insists that "a permanent diplomatic agreement will require dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, including enrichment-, heavy water-, and reprocessing-related facilities." In the meantime the letters point out that financial pressure successfully coerced Iranian leaders into coming to the negotiating table, and that actions should be taken to signal that overwhelming new pressure will be reimposed should Iran violate the interim agreement or - having used negotiations as delaying tactics - eventually walk away from talks. The letters reflect the opinions of lopsided majorities of Americans, per a recent poll conducted for The Israel Project by The Mellman Group.


Controversy swirled on Friday regarding Thursday testimony given to Congress by Secretary of State John Kerry, in which Kerry told the House Foreign Relations Committee that "I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising again and again" Israel's demand that the Palestinians recognize the country's Jewish character "as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a [Palestinian] state, and peace, and we've obviously made that clear." Kerry went on to note that the issue of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is a settled matter, and that "'Jewish state' was resolved in 1947 in Resolution 181 where there are more than 40-- 30 mentions of 'Jewish state... Arafat in 1988 and again in 2004 confirmed that he agreed it would be a Jewish state." Coverage typically took the statements to be a criticism of Israel's long-standing demand that any comprehensive agreement include a Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, if only as a badly needed confidence-building signal indicating that the Palestinians were ready to end their territorial claims against Jerusalem. Noting the context of the claims, however, Jewish Telegraph Agency Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas suggested that Kerry was "slamming [the Palestinians], not Israel, on the issue" and that he was following the lead of members of Congress in expressing "frustration [with] Palestinians" over their resistance to compromising on the condition. It would indeed be strange for Kerry to blame Israel for insisting on the condition, inasmuch as he had emphasized as recently as last December that a U.S.-backed framework agreement would aim at "achiev[ing] recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people."


The Associated Press assessed on Friday that Hamas has "been hit by the worst economic crisis since seizing the [Gaza Strip] seven years ago," after a series of bad geopolitical gambles - most prominently its alignment with the now-decapitated Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, but also various miscalculations involving Iran and its allies - left the group regionally isolated. The Egyptian army, which blames Hamas for facilitating the movement of jihadist personnel and materials into the Egypt-controlled Sinai, has for over a year been engaged in systematically destroying the smuggling tunnels linking the Sinai with Gaza. An announcement this week had the number of destroyed tunnels, which had served as Hamas's economic lifeline to the outside world, at 1,370. The Times of Israel reported earlier this week that Hamas was scrambling to reestablish strained ties with Iran, and that the Iranians were receptive to bring the terror group back into the fold. U.S. analysts have been increasingly vocal in suggesting that Western policymakers ought to avail themselves of a narrow window of opportunity to deal Hamas a financial death blow by cutting off its funding from overseas and from the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) that controls the West Bank.


A report published on Friday by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) drills down into what authors Jonathan Schanzer and Rachel Ziemba - respectively the vice president of research at FDD and the director of emerging markets at Roubini Global Economics - describe as "the most damaging" of the corruption charges that have hammered Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), specifically "the massive 'gas-for-gold' sanctions-busting scheme that yielded neighboring Iran some $13 billion in Turkish gold between 2012 and 2013" during "the height of the Western sanctions regime." The report describes a range of ways that Turkey funneled precious metals into Iran, and identifies the sources of metals for which Turkey served as a transit point. It specifically cites "the UAE, Switzerland, Ghana, and South Africa" for their roles in various schemes, and calls on them to face "scrutiny internationally for their role in these transactions." A previous FDD report had identified Turkey as a global terrorist financing hub, and Ankara has for the better part of a decade been a major source of concern for the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organization charged with combating money-laundering and terrorist-financing. Turkish media earlier this year bemoaned Turkey's status as the only NATO member on FATF's gray list, where it had been placed "due to insufficient laws and capabilities to counter terrorism financing in Turkey."


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