(June 25, 2019 / JNS) Former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak launched a long-shot bid on Sunday as the 25th entry for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
A U.S. Navy veteran, Sestack represented the 7th Congressional District of Pennsylvania—a swing state that could help decide the winner next year in November—from 2007 to 2011.
While in Congress, he supported U.S. sanctions against Iran and upheld Israel’s right to defend itself.
In March 2007, he signed a bipartisan letter to the European Union to withhold assistance to the Palestinians in response to Hamas and Fatah forming a coalition government.
“At this time, with the formation of a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, and with Hamas continuing to reject the demands of the international community to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and agree to abide by previously signed agreements, it is vital that the U.S. and E.U. maintain a unified position of withholding direct aid to the Palestinian government,” it stated.
Talks must be ‘mediated by the United States’
Sestak called for a two-state solution in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he believes to be in the interests of Israel and the United States.
“At the end of the day, Israel is its own self-determining government,” he said on MSNBC in May 2009. A comprehensive approach to a two-state solution is not just, we believe, in Israel’s interest. It’s in our interest.
“And being able to bring the neighboring Arab states together and the international community together, together with Israel, to show, look, we can give you prospects for peace, is the real strong hand, and probably the only hand that this president has, in addition to showing that he can deal with Iran,” he continued.
In June 2010, he said, “The way forward in the Middle East, as it has been around the world and throughout history, is communication. There must be direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, mediated by the United States. The proximity talks that began recently were an important step, but there will never be peace by proxy.”
The following September, Sestak regretted signing a letter by J Street pressuring Israel to ease off a blockade of Gaza.
“[T]he Congressman said the one Israel related action he regretted was signing on to the infamous ‘Gaza 54’ letter, and if he had to do it over he would have sent an individual letter,” according to the Orthodox Union, where Sestak said he wished he had thought twice.
“The Congressman noted that he chose not to sponsor Iran sanctions legislation when President [Barack] Obama requested more time for negotiations, but that he did vote for the eventual legislation,” continued the O.U. “As well, he noted that while he did not sign a letter to Secretary [Hillary] Clinton with other members, he wrote his own letter to her on the issues.”
Sestak’s support for the letter was criticized, with the Republican Jewish Coalition saying in a TV ad in August 2010 that the Pennsylvania Democrat “pressured Israel,” and that “by pressuring Israel, Sestak has a funny way of showing” that he’s pro-Israel.
The previous month, J Street defended him in a TV ad, claiming that the “far-right is attacking Joe Sestak over Israel,” despite the congressman supporting U.S. assistance to Israel and a two-state solution.
From supporting Iran sanctions to the nuclear deal
In September 2009, Sestak condemned an Iranian nuclear site uncovered 100 miles south of Tehran.
“This latest revelation is certainly a cause for alarm, and it demonstrates once again the need for the kind of intense diplomatic engagement President Obama has demonstrated at the U.N. and Group of 20 [G-20] Summit in Pittsburgh this week,” said the then-congressman.
He also said, “The United States must ensure that Iran does not attain nuclear weapons, as this poses a direct threat to our interests, including Israel, and would in all likelihood provoke a regional arms race.
“As a former admiral, it is my firm view that the best way forward is as follows: The United States should continue to call upon Iran to open this new facility to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and proceed with the planned October 1 summit with Iranian diplomats in Geneva. At that summit, the United States delegation must work with its counterparts from China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia to pressure Iran to halt any nuclear weapon programs it is pursuing.”
Sestak repeatedly called for U.S. sanctions on the regime.
In October 2009, he voted for the Iran Sanctions Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House.
It stated that “it is the policy of the United States to support the decision of state and local governments and educational institutions to divest from, and to prohibit the investment of assets they control in, persons that have investments of more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector.”
“President Obama’s strategy of engagement draws upon a comprehensive approach to national security and clearly has more potential than the status quo of just harsh rhetoric and threatened unilateral action maintained over the past eight years,” said Sestak. “While Iran cannot be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons—as this would pose a direct threat to our forces in the region and our ally Israel while potentially triggering a regional arms race—I am encouraged by the diplomatic progress the Obama administration has demonstrated in recent weeks, while still having the military option on, but at the back of, the table.”
He said the following December, “Iran cannot be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons as this would pose a direct threat to our forces in the region and our ally Israel while potentially triggering a regional arms race.”
“I believe the Obama administration took the proper initial steps in engaging with Iran diplomatically, with some progress made this fall,” he continued. “It did so by offering Iran a chance to participate in negotiations about its nuclear activities and intentions, or face new international sanctions for not making sufficient progress toward greater transparency.”
‘Militaries never fix a problem’
Sestak is one of the 10 Democratic candidates so far to promise that, if elected, the United States would re-enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Last month, he said that the renewed Iranian threat is because the United States “broke its word” by withdrawing from the deal in May 2018.
“We had an Iranian nuclear accord and we just walked away from it, and Iran had kept their promise to us,” he said in an interview. “Now we’re crushing them with sanctions to do something, and so I think what we have to do is step back right now and say, ‘Hey, remember, militaries can stop a problem. Militaries never fix a problem.’ ”