Boxer, AIPAC lead efforts to cut off Iranian exports

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Calling Iran a "sponsor of evil deeds," Sen. Barbara Boxer said this week she is backing a bill to sanction foreign companies that invest in the Mideast nation.

"If you do business with Iran, you won't do business with America," said the Jewish Democrat from Greenbrae.

Boxer spoke Monday to an audience of 700 at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee membership-drive luncheon at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. This event and two others in San Jose and Oakland were dedicated to Israel's late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

During speeches and interviews, Boxer and AIPAC national president Steve Grossman reaffirmed their support for the current peace process and outlined ways to minimize Israel's risks in this endeavor — though neither would express an opinion on the possibility of stationing U.S. troops in the Golan Heights as part of a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement.

At the top of AIPAC's 1996 agenda, Grossman said, is legislation to boost Israel's military technology and to put the squeeze on Iran.

"If you think about the strategic threat to Israel long-term," Grossman said, "it's the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and…the spread of Islamic fundamentalism."

Iran excels in both areas, he said.

In recent weeks, Boxer has taken a leading role in helping work out differences between Congress and the administration on the Iran bill. Earlier this week, the bill was still in the Senate's banking committee, on which Boxer serves.

Though the federal government banned U.S. trade and investment with Iran this spring, foreign corporations with U.S. subsidiaries continue to purchase oil from Iran. By trying to cut off a major source of Iran's income, Boxer said, the United States can dry up financing for Iranian-backed fundamentalist terrorists.

When an oil deal between Conoco and Iran was scrapped earlier this year under pressure from the federal government and Israel supporters, Grossman said, a French corporation with 19 subsidiaries in the United States took Conoco's place. In November, he added, officials of more than 100 foreign companies traveled to Teheran to bid on projects worth $7 billion.

In addition to the Iran bill, Grossman said, AIPAC will focus next year on the possible expansion of military technology and sophisticated weaponry that the United States shares with or sells to Israel. Though Israel is considered a major ally, Grossman said, it doesn't rank as high as NATO countries when it comes to sharing defense information, such as infrared software.

A new relationship between the United States and Israel could take the form of a defense treaty, an upgraded "memorandum of understanding" or provisions within the annual foreign aid bill.

This potential shift becomes even more important, he added, as Israel relinquishes control of parts of the West Bank — and potentially the Golan Heights and its security zone in southern Lebanon.

Such a move would drive home to Arab nations the fact that they cannot create a wedge between the United States and Israel, Grossman said. It would also help increase Israelis' confidence in any possible peace agreement with Syria.

Despite Prime Minister Shimon Peres' renewed interest in a Syrian-Israeli peace, neither Boxer nor Grossman would say whether they would back sending U.S. troops to the Golan as part of a peace agreement. "It's premature for AIPAC to take a position," Grossman said.

AIPAC continues to ask Congressmembers not to take a final public stand yet on this issue. That's because the details of any such peace agreement remain entirely unclear, Grossman said. Still unknown is whether Syria would agree to ground-based early warning stations, refrain from stationing troops on the border and constrain drug trafficking and terrorist activities.

Boxer agreed, saying any discussion of such a divisive issue is unnecessary for now. "No one's even asking for troops."

Though she wouldn't spell out her position on this issue, Boxer told the audience she has decided to support sending U.S. troops to Bosnia as part of an international operation to enforce the peace agreement and stop the atrocities. Since the Holocaust, she said, Jews have promised that such a tragedy would never happen again to anyone. "I think we can do something to prevent a genocide," she said.

Though some Bay Area Jews have said Boxer's voting record on Israel shows less than consistent support, Grossman considers her a steadfast ally.

In addition to her recent work on the Iran bill, Grossman pointed to Boxer's immediate commitment earlier this year to legislation moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel's capital.

"In the last year, we've gone to her for help, and she's been not only willing to be involved, but she's taken an early leadership role," he said. "She's been a terrific partner in the past year."