Rothman talks tough on Iran, Iraq policy

Rothman talks tough on Iran, Iraq policy

As Democrats took control of the House of Representatives last week, Rep. Steve Rothman ascended to one of Congress’ top foreign affairs subcommittees while he introduced a resolution calling on the U.N. Security Council to charge Iran’s president with violations of international genocide laws.

Rep. Steve Rothman

The resolution seeks to call President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to account specifically for violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Geneva Convention) and the U.N. charter, through his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.

Rothman (D-9th Dist.) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) sponsored the resolution, which, as of Tuesday, had attracted ‘0 other bipartisan co-sponsors.

"It continues efforts by many to focus worldwide attention on the dangerous rogue regime now in control of Iran," Rothman told The Jewish Standard Tuesday. "Hopefully, our resolution, when it is overwhelmingly adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives, will remind all the nations of the world that they must be diligent in denying weapons of mass destruction to Iran, in view of Iran’s fundamental threat to the well-being of the region and to the laws of civilized nations that it is a signatory to."

The resolution has moved to the House clerk. From there it will go to the appropriate committees for discussion before coming to the House floor for a vote. No timetable is set for a vote.

Rothman is hopeful that the Senate will consider a similar resolution, believing that resolutions passed by both houses of Congress would send messages not only to the United Nations, but also to the business world, that continued transactions with Iran would be viewed unfavorably by the United States.

"Many people believe that a nearly unanimous resolution of the United States Congress on any subject in the field of international relations has a meaningful impact in the way American foreign policy is developed and how foreign nations address the issue raised so forcefully by the Congress," Rothman said.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the U.S. Treasury Department, "moving to raise pressure on Iran, on Tuesday barred American financial institutions from doing business with a major Iranian bank," Bank Sepah, alleging its involvement in Iran’s illicit weapons programs.

While the United Nations is not obligated to charge Ahmadinejad if the resolution passes, it could bring forward charges if there is enough pressure from world bodies. Possible outcomes include Ahmadinejad’s appearing before the International Criminal Court, as well as additional Security Council-imposed sanctions on Iran.

"It’s important that the House of Representatives speak with one clear and powerful voice in condemnation of the Hitler-like threats which have been coming forth from Iran’s president for some time now," Rothman said.

Asked why such a resolution had not been put forth earlier, Rothman said it was a matter of disbelief. "Many in the civilized world were under the impression that no rational national leader would ever seriously mean to commit himself to the destruction of a neighboring country," he said. "However, with the continuation of this genocidal rhetoric and the state’s intention to acquire weapons of mass destruction, Ahmadinejad’s words now require the entire world, including the American Congress, to condemn these actions and to unite to prevent this evil scoundrel from gaining the tools he seeks that would allow him to fulfill his genocidal wish against Israel."

A report in The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday indicated that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is "exploring what legal options are out there" for prosecuting Ahmadinejad, according to an unnamed source in the Foreign Ministry. The source went on to say that the ministry was "cooperating with friendly governments and NGOs on this issue."

This is not the first time Israel has looked into the idea of charging Ahmadinejad, said Benjamin Krasna, Israel’s deputy consul general in New York. The Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations had raised the issue in December, as well.

"What we’re trying to focus on is the need to really do a lot to raise the awareness of the Iran issue," Krasna told the Standard. "It’s a significant threat to the international community, not just Israel. We need to take a close look — the international community — at what ways can be used to address this challenge."

London’s Sunday Times reported this week that Israel is planning a low-yield nuclear attack against Iran’s nuclear development sites. Israeli officials denied the reports from the Times’ anonymous sources but have stated that military action is an option if diplomacy fails. President Bush has made similar declarations.

Rothman, asked if he would support Israeli military action against Iran, said it was a question he could not answer. "I don’t know what rationale Israel would give for military action at this point or what justification it would present to the Congress."

While Kirk and Rothman’s resolution does not preclude further congressional action on Iran, Rothman does not favor military intervention in that country. "At this moment, I see no justification for any U.S. military action against Iran," he said. "Instead, I, along with many others, believe that more consistent and smarter diplomacy — alone and with our allies — in addressing Iran is the better course."

Rothman will have the opportunity to flex his diplomatic muscles in the new Democrat-controlled House, in his new position as one of 15 members of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense. The committee is responsible for overseeing federal spending on the war in Iraq, as well as all aspects of America’s military preparedness.

"We intend to vigorously scrutinize the president’s upcoming requests for funding for the Iraq War, believing that [it] is our constitutional responsibility and very necessary given the terrible results that we’ve seen coming out of the Bush Administration’s Iraq War efforts," Rothman said, referring to the intentions of the new Democratic majority.

The Bush administration has wasted tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money through its military procurement policies and failed reconstruction efforts, Rothman said.

He added that the Democrats’ plan to overhaul the president’s Iraq strategy includes a series of hearings and investigations interviewing administration officials, laborers, and a variety of experts to determine the best approach to rebuilding the U.S. military and facing short- and long-term threats to national security.

"We’re determined to get the kind of data and information we need, learning from the past and then incorporating those lessons into a smart and effective program to get our troops out of Iraq; to continue the military missions around the world that still make sense; and to invest in a stronger, smarter, and more capable military," he said.

Withdrawal from Iraq would send a message to America’s allies and enemies that Americans are "finally acting in their national security interests by leaving a nation they freed of a terrible dictator and spent so many lives and resources to help so that the people of Iraq could finally decide whether they are going to build on American sacrifices and live in peace with their fellow Iraqis."

The president has announced that his new strategy in Iraq includes a build-up of at least ‘0,000 more troops. Rothman said he is determined to bring the troops home without first increasing the U.S. presence in Iraq. As of Wednesday, when this publication went to press, Bush had not yet made his speech outlining his new strategy for Iraq. However, a "surge" in troops, as Bush has called it, would only worsen America’s position, Rothman said.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) issued a statement on Wednesday, before Bush delivered his speech, lambasting a "surge" in troop levels and the direction of the Iraq war.

"After all of the errors and incompetence the Bush administration has shown on Iraq, how can the American people believe the president is on the right track?" Lautenberg said. "Our military leaders have already indicated that this so-called ‘surge’ is the wrong approach. We should not simply throw more money at this problem, nor put more of our courageous soldiers in peril.

"We can send many thousands more troops to Iraq but it won’t make a difference if the Sunnis feel the Iraqi government offers them nothing," he said.

Calls to Lautenberg for comment on the Iranian resolution were not returned by press time on Wednesday.

Ideally, Rothman would like to see all troops stationed in Iraq brought home, while ‘0,000 to 30,000 soldiers are positioned in nations surrounding Iraq to act as a deterrent against future foreign intervention in the struggling fledgling democracy.

"Leaving Iraq is necessary for America’s national security," he said. "It is morally justified and it is necessary if America is to rebuild its armed forces to be capable of confronting the real dangers to America that are present around the world outside of Iraq."

Those dangers, Rothman continued, include North Korea and Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, as well as Iran. "We need to be prepared to deal with each in its own way."

The representative was unwavering, though, in his support of Israel and the continued need to isolate the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. In ‘001, Rothman was named a member of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, a position he will continue to hold. That committee is responsible for all foreign aid and, as a result, has a strong focus on Israel.

As the guard changes in the halls of Congress, Israel’s deputy consul general is confident that U.S. support for Israel continues to be a bipartisan issue.

"We’ve been blessed with that," Krasna said. "Israel is a strategic ally of the United States and vice versa."

As a member of two powerful foreign relations committees, Rothman agreed with Krasna’s interpretation. "I thoroughly expect that the Democratic-controlled Congress will be as strong a supporter and defender of Israel as any previous Congress," he said.

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