President Obama has taken promising steps toward improving US relations with Iran, from agreeing to participate in six party talks to recording a video message to Iranians on Persian New Year. I brought some Peace Action West supporters together and set up meetings with the offices of Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Howard Berman during the congressional recess to express our desire for Congress to support the president’s moves toward diplomacy and avoid any behavior that might undermine it.
Wednesday our stellar group of activists, including two Iranian-Americans and an American who had lived in Iran for 11 years, met with Rep. Waxman. We started out by expressing our support for the direction President Obama is taking with our policy toward Iran. One of the most important things we wanted to talk about in the meeting was a letter to President Obama that Rep. Waxman signed, along with a group of powerful Democrats in the House. The letter raised serious concerns for us because it hypes the threat from Iran’s nuclear program despite contradictory evidence from the IAEA and the US intelligence community, and calls for negotiations to have a deadline of only a few months. After more than fifty years of tensions between the US and Iran, a few months is not nearly enough time to conduct serious diplomacy. The letter also calls for enacting harsh economic sanctions against Iran if that very small amount of time is not enough to resolve tensions. Economic sanctions have not changed Iran’s behavior and have actually strengthened Iran’s government and hurt the Iranian people. This is not an effective way to change Iran’s behavior, and calling for increased sanctions can easily undermine what President Obama is trying to accomplish by toning down rhetoric and creating a less hostile environment for negotiations. We thanked Rep. Waxman for his strong voting record on our issues and for his efforts to raise concerns about a dangerous sanctions bill last year, and urged him to strongly support direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions or a short timeline.
Another group of constituents spoke with two of Rep. Berman’s staff people on Thursday to share similar concerns about Iran and the letter that Rep. Berman also signed. As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Berman carries a lot of clout on this issue, and played an instrumental role in blocking the dangerous Iran sanctions bill H Con Res 362 that we worked to oppose last year. We thanked him for those efforts and again encouraged him to create the political space for a bold new direction in US Iran policy, and avoid any action in Congress that could derail that effort. We also asked Rep. Berman to cosponsor the new bill encouraging President Obama to negotiate an Incidents at Sea agreement with Iran, which would develop protocol for communicating with Iran and prevent accidental military confrontation (you can ask your representative to cosponsor by clicking here).
In a recent survey of congressional staff, they said the most likely thing to change their boss’ mind about an issue is meeting with constituents. Local lobby meetings are easy to do and have a tremendous impact by giving you an opportunity to share your feelings directly with your representatives in Congress. If you are interested in setting up a meeting with your own representative or senator, email me and I can give you all the tools and tips you need.