On Iran, signs of bipartisanship among MN's delegationby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
WASHINGTON — Though President Barack Obama isn't getting any credit from his GOP rivals over sanctions on Iran, his plan has at least a few fans among Minnesota's congressional delegation — on both sides of the aisle.
The measures that make it harder for Iran to sell its oil on world markets are in response to the country's suspected efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran has been on the political agenda in part because the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee held its annual convention in Washington this week. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama spoke about Iran at the convention.
Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen said Congress and the White House can share the credit on this issue.
"I think they're on the right track," Paulsen said, referring to the Obama administration. "The administration was a little reluctant in accepting some of the sanctions on the central bank, for instance, but Congress, again bipartisanly, gave the Administration that tool and now they're using those tools."
From across the aisle, DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar agrees.
A phrase that she and most members of Congress use is that the U.S. should keep "all options on the table" — including military action.
"But for now continued sanctions and international coordination to isolate Iran and compel it to fully comply is really what's key," she said.
To be sure, not all of Minnesota's representatives agree on the matter. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, argued for a more aggressive stance, saying Iran isn't sincere about its desire to negotiate.
Bachmann said Obama's proposal to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal beyond the 1,550 warheads it's allowed under an arms control treaty with Russia creates an opening for Iran.
"It doesn't take much imagination to see what sort of message the Iranians are taking from that," Bachmann said. "They're busy nuking up while President Obama is proposing we potentially denuclearize ourselves by 80 percent. I don't think that's the message we want to be sending right now."
DFL Rep. Keith Ellison worries that all of the aggressive talk he's hearing about Iran mirrors the way the debate played out in 2002 and 2003 over whether to invade Iraq, before he entered Congress.
Despite repeated claims by the Bush administration that Iraq was building nuclear weapons, no evidence of a nuclear program was ever found there.
"I'm not going to tell another mom in the 5th Congressional District why their son or daughter is dead based on a war that I voted for, that I didn't really understand," he said. "I won't do it."
Members of Congress have also been invited to at least one classified intelligence briefing this week about the status of Iran's nuclear program.
"The one thing I hate about classified briefings is that you can't say what happens in the classified briefings, but I think I can safely say I heard not one thing that made me inclined to vote for a war," Ellison said. "In fact, I heard the opposite."
Right now, the American intelligence community is uncertain if Iran is actively developing a nuclear weapon although the country is enriching uranium, a vital first step in the bomb making process.
First-term Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack said he's drawn a clear conclusion from what he's learned.
"I think that they are on a positive path to building a nuclear weapon and when they can build that nuclear weapon, they will build it," Cravaack said.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post this week criticizing President Obama's policies toward Iran — which so far have emphasized sanctions to force Iran back to the bargaining table.
DFL Sen. Al Franken said he read that op-ed skeptically.
"It's full of inaccuracies," Franken said. "It basically takes what the president has been doing and suggests that the president do it. So it is almost laughable if the situation weren't so serious."
International talks with Iran could begin as soon as the end of the month.