Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process continue to dominate American foreign policy, subtly influencing other goings-on in Washington. The Obama administration recently received two letters from members of the House of Representatives, one calling for clemency for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, and the other questioning a proposed multi-billion-dollar weapons sale to Saudi Arabia.

Questioning Saudi Arabia

Reps. Scott Garrett (R-5), Steve Rothman (D-9), and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-5) have signed on to a letter with more than 190 other members of the House who questioned a proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. The letter, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Nov. 10, asks for clarification on how the sale advances U.S. interests, if any conditions have been placed on the sale, and what threats the sale is intended to address.

“We do that in light of the concerns we raised of the failures by Saudi Arabia to meet the levels of commitments in other areas we hope they would raise before we engage in such arms sales,” Garrett told The Jewish Standard during a phone interview last week.

The letter also raises concerns about Saudi Arabia’s regional policies, in particular with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to the letter, members of Congress “have serious concerns about the nature of Saudi involvement in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly since the Saudis have failed to take steps toward normalization of relations with Israel or to augment their financial support of the Palestinian Authority.

“Likewise, Saudi officials have often made clear their anxiety over the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. But what action, if any, has Saudi Arabia taken to address this threat?”

The letter, Garrett said, is “a strong message that we’re looking for answers in a timely manner.”

Rothman said the letter is meant to ensure Israel’s military advantage in the region.

“My initial conversation with military and intelligence leaders who are most aware of the realities on the ground indicates that Israel’s qualitative military advantages would not be compromised by such a deal,” Rothman said, adding that the letter’s purpose was to get specifics as to how that advantage would be sustained, if not enhanced, by this deal.

Rothman’s office received a letter in response from Clinton and Gates earlier this week. According to that letter, the secretaries ” believe the proposed package promotes U.S. strategic and foreign policy interests, and it is a key component of our overall regional strategy.”

The letter cited the close “political-military relations” of six decades with Saudi Arabia, “a primary security pillar in the region.”

The secretaries also cited the Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia as well as attacks on its border with Yemen. They also concluded, according to the letter, that the sale will not impact Israel’s military advantage in the region.

“I will now be doing my own due diligence with regards to the statements made by Secretaries Gates and Clinton,” Rothman said.

To read both letters in full, visit www.jstandard.com.

Only Einhorn can go to China?

As the United States continues to push for tougher sanctions against Iran in the United Nations, China and Russia have consistently fought against harsher measures. Garrett recently met with Robert Einhorn, special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control and the Obama administration’s point-man on sanctions enforcement, for a briefing on a recent meeting with Chinese officials. Einhorn has worked on nuclear proliferation issues in almost every administration since Richard Nixon’s. In September, he went to China with a list of Chinese companies and banks that continue to violate sanctions against Iran.

Garrett raised questions about that list and China’s response. During his conversation with the Standard, Garrett stayed away from specifics about that list, but said it would be a subject of continuing talks with Einhorn.

Sanctions can be effective, the representative said, but they need to lead to something.

“The endgame is not to simply be implementing sanctions, but to bring about a change of behavior by Iran and we have yet to see that,” Garrett said.

Calls increasing for Pollard’s release

Calls for clemency for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard are gaining steam in Washington, with a letter to the White House signed by almost 40 members of the House of Representatives. Pollard is serving a life sentence on charges of espionage on behalf of Israel.

Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) sent the letter to President Obama Nov. 18 after collecting signatures from 35 other members of the house, including Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).

“We are not questioning Mr. Pollard’s guilt, but rather appealing for clemency based on the vast disparity between his sentence and his crime,” said Pascrell in a statement to the Standard. “Israel is one of America’s strongest allies, and I believe that 25 years behind bars is far too many for Mr. Pollard, especially considering the sentences to those convicted of similar crimes on behalf of countries who are not our friends.”

Pascrell, who visited Pollard in federal prison in 1998, has made Pollard’s case one of his main issues.

Pollard’s lawyers submitted a request for clemency to Obama last month after it was revealed that Pollard’s sentence may have been influenced by the anti-Israel attitude of the late U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. The Jerusalem Post also reported Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to ask Obama for Pollard’s release as part of an incentive package for Israel to extend its settlement freeze.

“In the end, the reasons why now is the appropriate time or whether Mr. Pollard’s release on clemency grounds would dovetail with other activities occurring in the Middle East or at home are irrelevant,” Rothman said. “What is most important is that the injustice of Mr. Pollard’s continued incarceration – albeit for an extremely serious act of treason that he committed – be granted immediately.”

Pollard’s sentence, he said, “has so grossly exceeded” the sentences of other Americans tried for similar crimes, Rothman said. The 25 years Pollard has already served meets the needs of punishment and deterrence, he said, adding that Pollard has expressed remorse for his actions.

Garrett did not sign the letter, which he said he had not seen. He declined further comment on the issue of clemency until he reads the letter.

For more on the Pollard issue, see Timing, noodging advance new push for Pollard.

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at josh@jewishmediagroup.com