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The United States Capitol houses many of the decisions made by our lawmakers to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel.

Heard On The Hill

Senators Press E.U. on Iran Sanctions

A bipartisan group of 36 U.S. senators pressed the European Union (E.U.) to immediately close "a significant loophole in U.S.-E.U. sanctions policy" as P5+1 leaders met with Iranian officials in Kazakhstan. The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

In a letter to E.U. Council President Herman Van Rompuy in late February, the senators emphasized the need to restrict Iran's access to the "Target2" system, which it reportedly uses to convert its foreign-held euros into local currencies.

Barring direct or indirect access to the Target2 service by accounts held by the Iranian government or its affiliates would prevent Tehran from skirting the impact of sanctions put in place due to the regime's intransigence regarding its nuclear program.

As stated in the letter, the U.S. and E.U. "need to maintain and increase pressure if diplomacy has a hope of succeeding" in dissuading Iran from advancing its nuclear capabilities.

Intel Chief: U.S. Would Detect Iranian Uranium Production

National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Iran could not produce enough highly enriched uranium to develop an atomic bomb without being detected.

In an annual report to Congress on global threats, Clapper said Iran "could not divert safeguarded material and produce a weapon-worth of WGU (weapons-grade uranium) before this activity is discovered."

At the same time, he said, Iran's uranium enrichment efforts continue to progress. "Of particular note, Iran has made progress during the past year that better positions it to produce weapons-grade uranium (WGU) using its declared facilities and uranium stockpiles, should it choose to do so," the report stated.

DNC Chair: 'Time Is Running Out' for Iran

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said "time is running out" for a diplomatic solution to dissuade Iran from continuing its nuclear program. The comment echoed recent statements by President Obama.

"Iran is going to have to make a decision on what they want to do soon," said Wasserman Schultz during an interview with CNN on March 14.

The lawmaker also expressed confidence in the intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel in monitoring Iran's nuclear program.

"We are with Israel every day side by side working together," she said.

Lawmakers Criticize Times Editorial on Iran

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) responded this week to a March 9 editorial in The New York Times that condemns the Iran sanctions bill they introduced in late February.

In the editorial, the Times argued that the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act (H.R. 850) "could unravel the international coalition against Iran by penalizing countries—like Turkey, India, South Korea and China—that have not done enough to enforce sanctions."

The congressmen respond that their bill signals that sanctions remain a critical tool to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear activities.

"We strongly support a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis, but the only reason Tehran has come to the negotiating table is that tough sanctions have been imposed by the United States and the world."

Read the full text of the letter here.

Lawmakers Condemn Erdoğan on Anti-Zionism Statements

A bipartisan and bicameral group of 85 House and Senate members signed a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan calling on him to retract statements calling Zionism a "crime against humanity."

The March 12 letter, spearheaded by Rep. Steve Israel (D–NY), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), expresses "our grave disappointment with the statement you made at the United Nations-sponsored conference in Vienna last month equating Zionism—the foundation of the Jewish state and the movement for Jewish self-determination—with fascism and anti-Semitism, and labeling it a 'crime against humanity.'"

"National leaders like Prime Minister Erdoğan," said Rep. Israel in a separate statement, "cannot be spouting incendiary rhetoric that further threatens unrest in an already perilous region. Zionism is a non-discriminatory affirmation of Jewish nationhood, and the Prime Minister's comment disparages this noble historical enterprise."

Congress Approves Aid to Israel

The House and Senate approved a continuing resolution (CR)—a stopgap measure to fund the government through Sept. 30 pending a formal spending agreement by Democrats and Republicans—that includes $3.1 billion in security assistance for Israel.

The CR also includes $268.7 million for U.S.-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs, which includes Arrow-2, Arrow-3, and David’s Sling, as well as $168 million for the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The funding levels will still be subject to across-the-board cuts mandated by sequestration.

U.S. Ambassador: Robust Aid Being Provided to Syria

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told House lawmakers that the United States is providing some $114 million to the Syrian opposition, far more than previously disclosed.

"Preserving national unity and laying the foundation for a free Syria that respects the rights of all its citizens is essential if we are to secure a Syria that helps rather than threatens stability in the heart of the Middle East," Ford told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations on March 13.

He added: "Collapse and fragmentation of the Syrian state or its takeover by extremists would worsen the risks associated with chemical weapons security, terrorist bases, and new refugee flows inundating neighboring states. Those outcomes would directly threaten our interests."

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), who chairs the subcommittee, noted that the crisis in Syria allows for no easy solutions. "The membership is very concerned and the ambassador was very straightforward in what he had to say," she said. "A lot of questions, there aren't answers to yet because we don't know the end-game."

In this context, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) highlighted the risks of aiding Syria's opposition. "We're trying to be as aggressive as we can without taking the risk that the assistance we give could be used against us down the road," he said. "We continue to probe on the best way to assist the opposition."