Inside the Beltway

Inside the Beltway

New Jersey’s senators last week teamed up with fellow lawmakers in sending out letters supportive of Israel to parties ranging from the German government to Republican members of Congress.

Eleven senators, led by Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), called on the German government to stop a Hamburg-based bank from doing business with an Iranian bank that supports Iran’s nuclear program.

The senators wrote to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, urging his government to crack down on the activities of Europaisch-Iranische Handelsbank.

EIH remains one of Iran’s few access points to the European financial system.

The letter stressed that, in allowing a prominent German bank to continue doing business with Iran, the German government is undermining last summer’s long-awaited and toughest-yet European Union sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

“The sanctions passed by the EU this summer sent a strong message to Iran that we will not allow its illicit behavior and violations of Security Council resolutions to go unanswered,” the letter read. “Yet, the continued operation of EIH allows the Iranian regime to skirt the sanctions and undercut their effectiveness.”

The letter pointed out that EIH conducts transactions on behalf of Bank Mellat, “a designated supporter of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran,” which reports directly to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is Iran’s main organ for developing nuclear technology.

The letter said that, should the German government fail to stop EIH from doing business with Iran, any German company doing business with EIH “may itself be barred from accessing the U.S. financial system. Companies that continue to conduct trade with Iran via EIH also face potential sanctions in the U.S., including restrictions on exports to the U.S. and access to U.S. capital markets.”

Also signing onto the letter were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John Kyl (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) teamed up with a bipartisan group of six colleagues in calling on top Republicans on House spending panels to reject Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) call to end all foreign aid, including to Israel.

During a Jan. 26 interview, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pressed Paul as to whether his call to end “all foreign aid” included aid to Israel. Paul answered, “Yes.”

The senators’ letter, which characterized Paul’s position as “alarming,” maintained that his call to cut off aid to Israel wrongly applied the imperative to reduce spending to a situation where spending is not wasteful but crucial to the survival of an ally.

“Both Republicans and Democrats are committed to reining in the federal deficit, but assistance to Israel is not a matter of ‘pork barrel spending’ – rather, U.S. foreign aid to Israel demonstrates America’s rock-solid commitment to ensuring Israel’s right to exist,” it read. “Using Congress’s bipartisan commitment to reining in government spending as a reason to abandon Israel is unacceptable and should be immediately rejected.”

The letter also stressed that Israel’s stability is more important than ever, adding, “At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being used to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel.”

Other signers to the letter, which was sent to prominent Republicans on house spending panels, included Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

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