Friday, December 21, 2012

"Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act"

On Tuesday, Congress passed a bill making it U.S. policy "to use a comprehensive government-wide strategy to counter Iran's growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere."

The "Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act" requires the State Department to present a report to Congress on any Iranian activity in the Western Hemisphere and outline a strategy to counter its presence, allocating $1 million dollars for it to do so. The report is due 180 days after the bill becomes law.

The bill passed with an overwhelming 386-6 vote in the House, after the Senate passed a slightly amended version last Wednesday, with added language that would make the State Department's report classified.

According to the Congressional Research Service's official summary, the report will include:

(1) descriptions of the presence, activities, and operations of Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC's Qods Force, and Hezbollah;

(2) descriptions of the terrain, population, ports, foreign firms, airports, borders, media outlets, financial centers, foreign embassies, charities, religious and cultural centers, and income-generating activities utilized by Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC's Qods Force, and Hezbollah;

(3) descriptions of the relationship of Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC's Qods Force, and Hezbollah with transnational criminal organizations;

(4) descriptions of the relationship of Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC's Qods Force, and Hezbollah that may be present with governments in the Western Hemisphere;

(5) descriptions of federal law enforcement capabilities, military forces, state and local government institutions, and other critical elements, such as nongovernmental
organizations that may organize to counter the Iranian threat in the Western Hemisphere;

(6) descriptions of activity by Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC's Qods Force, and Hezbollah that may be present at the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada and at other international borders within the Western Hemisphere; and

(7) a plan to address efforts by foreign persons, entities, and governments in the region to assist Iran in evading sanctions, to protect U.S. interests, assets, and allies in the Western Hemisphere, to support U.S. efforts to designate persons and entities in the Western Hemisphere for proliferation and terrorist activities relating to Iran, and to address vital U.S. interests in ensuring energy supplies from the Western Hemisphere. Expresses the sense of Congress that the Secretary should keep Congress informed about Iran's hostile actions in the Western Hemisphere.

The bill's supporters in the House say the legislation is necessary to prevent Iran from building stronger relationships in the hemisphere that allow it to circumvent economic sanctions and "pose a threat to U.S. interests." As Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs said, the U.S. must "combat the aggressive actions of Iran and proxies, such as Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere," as "one state sponsor of terrorism after another continues to receive the royal treatment from these tyrants of Latin America."

Another of the bill's supporters, Representative Albio Sires, a Democrat from New Jersey, said it was "important that the U.S. Government continue to closely monitor the nature and effectiveness of these Iranian efforts" given that Iran's leader, Ahmadinejad, "In a show of defiance to the U.S., has made six trips to our hemisphere. Although it is unclear that he has put anything of real value on the table."

The United States government, along with several security experts, has conducted many investigations into Iranian presence in Latin America. With the exception of a November 2012 House Subcommittee report on threats to the Southwest border, which focused heavily on Iran, the overall conclusion seems to be that while the threat of Hezbollah in the hemisphere is there, it is relatively small.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research published an interesting article last Thursday, which argues that the bill will "promote bad relations between the U.S. and Latin America," comparing it to the Monroe Doctrine.

For a lengthier posting on U.S. government and security investigations into Iran and Hezbollah's presence in Latin America, see a previous Just the Facts blog post.