WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a disappointing and surprising move, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has signed her name to a letter backed by the Israeli lobby AIPAC that demands an extension of the U.N.’s arms embargo on Iran.
Omar has joined 391 members of the House in signing the letter, which effectively bolsters the Trump administration to extend the arms sanction on Iran, on top of the already crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S. The news comes as a surprise and is a source of disappointment to those who have seen Omar as a strong critic of the powerful Israeli, lobby AIPAC. AIPAC and its supporters have had a publicly hostile relationship with Omar, accusing her of anti-Semitism for her criticism of AIPAC’s lobbying efforts.
The letter is directed towards Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is organized through bipartisan leadership, with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and top Republican U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) spearheading the document. U.S. Reps. Andy Levin and Brenda Lawrence from Michigan also signed their names on the letter.
The U.N. conventional arms embargo on Iran is set to expire in October and is the first sunset provision in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, colloquially termed the Iran nuclear deal. The deal was a hallmark of the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy legacy. The U.S. withdrew from the accord under President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign towards Iran.
“Iran’s illicit transfers of weapons directly contribute to some of the most destabilizing threats to the United States and our partners in the Middle East such as Israel and the Gulf States,” the letter sponsored by Omar and others reads. “Even so, the resolution serves as an important means to restrain the sale of weapons to Iran and makes clear continued international resolve to stop Iran’s illicit weapons transfers.”
Other so-called “progressive” members of Congress who are closely associated with Omar, like U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), did not include their signatures on the letter. Tlaib could not be reached for comment at this time.
Al-Monitor was first to report on the news of Omar’s signature. Her office told the publication that it couldn’t find “anything wrong” with extending the provision.
“Congresswoman Omar has consistently, for a long time, supported arms (embargoes) against human rights abusers,” Omar’s office told Al-Monitor. “However, that is not to say that she supports Pompeo’s tactics or that her position on sanctions has changed or that she is not in support of the (nuclear deal). It was just a narrow ask that we couldn’t find anything wrong with.”
Pompeo, for his part, has already expressed every intention to use any available diplomatic tool to force the U.N. Security Council to extend the conventional arms embargo, including using the nuclear deal to invoke a multilateral “snapback” of sanctions on Iran. Last week, Pompeo got into a Twitter debate with Massachusetts Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren about the legality of invoking such a snapback.
The international prohibition on weapons going to/from Iran ends in October. To extend this arms embargo, the Trump admin is suddenly arguing that the US is a party to the same Iran Deal it abandoned. That makes no sense. Make up your mind, @SecPompeo. https://t.co/cQ0uanYEYr
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 28, 2020
.@SenWarren, you should review the law again — our rights under UNSCR 2231 are separate from the JCPOA. But I’ll put you down for Chinese arms sales to Iran on October 18. Which weapons is it okay with you if they send? A couple of divisions of VT-4 tanks good?
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) April 30, 2020
Pompeo has argued that since the U.S. was still a participant in the Iran nuclear deal and has standing in the Security Council, it has the legal right to push for the snapback sanctions, since it remains part of the U.N. resolution that enshrined the agreement.
Engel himself has said that this would be a critical misstep and instead called for the reauthorization of the expiring U.N. arms embargo through a careful diplomatic campaign. Russia and China have expressed interest in selling Iran combat aircraft once the embargo expires in October and will likely veto any extension.