Iran under fire ahead of deal deadline

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Article Summary
A look at the Middle East issues Congress will be addressing the week of March 16.

WASHINGTON — Republicans continue to criticize Iran on multiple fronts this coming week as international negotiators approach the March 24 deadline for a deal.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee holds a hearing March 19 on whether the talks "pave" Tehran's path to a nuclear path, language used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress. State Department No. 2 Tony Blinken and Treasury's acting undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Adam Szubin, will argue they do the opposite.

On March 18, the committee's Middle East and Western Hemisphere panels hold a joint hearing on Iran and Hezbollah's influence in the Americas.

And we haven't heard the last of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who rose to international prominence with his open letter to the Iranians. He's speaking to US academic Walter Russell Mead on March 18 as part of the Hudson Institute's inaugural event for a series of "Dialogues on American Strategy and Statesmanship."

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The war against the Islamic State (IS) will also get a lot of air time on Capitol Hill.

The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing March 18 on the president's request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey are being dispatched to make the case.

The hearing comes as lawmakers of both parties are increasingly worried that successful efforts to roll back IS are accruing to the benefit of Iran. Partly to counter that development, hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has even warned that he will not vote for an AUMF that fails to ensure protections for US-trained Syrian rebels battling Bashar al-Assad and his Tehran-backed forces.

President Bararck Obama's foreign aid budget proposal for FY 2016 will also come in for a close examination next week.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee kicks things off the morning of March 17 with a hearing aimed at assessing the effectiveness of efforts by the US Agency for International Development and the Millennium Challenge Corp (MCC). Acting USAID Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt and MCC CEO Dana Hyde are slated to testify.

Lenhardt gets to do it all over again later in the afternoon when he testifies before the House Appropriations panel on State and Foreign Operations.

On March 18, it's the Foreign Affairs Middle East panel's turn. The State Department's top Near East official, Anne Patterson, and USAID Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Paige Alexander will be pressed to defend their agencies' effectiveness in meeting the challenges of the Middle East on the heels of a new report to Congress that faults the State Department for never having assessed the impact of its $1.3 billion in annual military assistance to Egypt.

In that same vein, USAID's assistant administrator for Africa, Eric Postel, and others testify March 18 before the House Foreign Affairs panel on Africa regarding US support for African elections. And the Senate Foreign Relations panel on Africa will hear March 19 about the progress made seven months after Obama's US-Africa Leaders Summit.

Finally, the House Homeland Security panel holds a pair of interesting hearings next week.

First up, the Border and Maritime Security subcommittee holds a hearing March 17 on whether the visa waiver program keeps America safe from terrorists. Chairwoman Candice Miller, R-Mich., has introduced legislation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to suspend the participation of countries that "fail to provide the United States with the pertinent information needed to combat terror threats."

Then on March 1, the committee's panel on emergency preparedness holds a hearing on the threat of "Chemical Terrorism” posed by IS and other groups.

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Found in: us congress, us-middle east policy, martin dempsey, iran nuclear talks, iran, is, hezbollah, ashton carter

Julian Pecquet is Al-Monitor's Washington Editor. He was previously Congressional Correspondent from 2014 through May 2017 and most recently before that headed up The Hill's Global Affairs blog. On Twitter: @JPecquet_ALM, Email: jpecquet@al-monitor.com.

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