Supporters of Iran deal lobby members of Congress on streets of Los Angeles
Nahid Lienke moved to the United States from Iran more than 30 years ago to study sociology at Miami Dade College and settled in Los Angeles with her husband, Tupper.
After decades of traveling back and forth to Iran and hoping for a thaw in relations between the two countries, Lienke has hope that a potential nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic will squelch any chance of war.
That’s why she joined some 60 other demonstrators in chant Wednesday afternoon in front of Rep. Ted Lieu’s Los Angeles office, urging the freshman congressman to join the growing chorus of Democrats who support the deal when it comes before Congress for a vote next month.
Lienke, 59, said the reason for her attendance was simple: to avoid what she dubs “unnecessary wars.”
“I have children who have blood of both sides,” she said.
Tupper, who has traveled to Iran with her multiple times, said he has spoken to his wife’s family and friends, and finds everyone, “from taxi drivers to professors ... would like nothing better than good, friendly relations with the United States.”
The event was organized by the liberal group MoveOn.org in multiple congressional districts from Ojai to Palm Springs. The group claims on its website that more than 230 gatherings were planned.
Supporters of the deal hit Rep. Mark DeSaulnier’s district in Northern California early Wednesday, and Rep. Raul Ruiz’s in the evening.
Fifteen activists gathered in Westlake in an attempt to influence Rep. Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. His would be a pivotal vote, but Becerra has not tipped his hand, saying in a statement only that “an agreement to halt nuclear proliferation cannot be built on trust but on verifiable, enforceable requirements. Every word will count in this agreement and we need to know the meaning of each provision of this deal.”
Outside Lieu’s office on Wilshire Boulevard in Hancock Park, on a day where temperatures reached 89 degrees, the activist group toted signs that read “No war with Iran” and “Defend Diplomacy.” Among the crowd of supporters — which also has drawn help from the founders of Ben & Jerry’s — was actor Ed Asner, who has been critical of Israel over the years.
“This is what democracy looks like!” the crowd chanted as passing drivers honked their horns in support. “People power!”
During the rally, Lieu’s district director said the office had received more than 2,000 petitions urging the congressman, who is president of the Democratic freshman class, to support the deal.
Two former Iranian political prisoners told the protesters they support the nuclear accord despite their imprisonment.
“This agreement would reinforce peace and stability in the Middle East and around the world,” Ali Shakeri and Bijan Pirzadeh said in a group statement with eight former prisoners. “Such an agreement will help counter the spread of terrorism within the region and around the world.”
Lieu was not in his office during the protest. He has said in the past that he is a staunch supporter of Israel’s right to defend its citizens from “threats to their existence.”
In his first year in office, Lieu traveled with other freshmen to Israel to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
An Air Force veteran and member of the Air Force Reserve, Lieu has argued that his commitment to Israel goes deeper than what he learned during his military service and training.
“We cannot trust the current Iranian regime, which is controlled by an oppressive, theocratic, authoritarian government that continues to fund terrorists,” Lieu’s website reads. “All diplomacy with Iran on the nuclear issue must be based on verifiable, achievable objectives.”
As a state senator, Lieu co-authored two Assembly bills that discouraged business with Iran. One divested state pension funds from companies doing business with Iran’s nuclear and energy industries; the other barred companies that do business with Iran’s energy industries from contracting with the state of California or any other public entity in the state.
Lieu’s office said he is still reviewing the details of the deal and meeting “with diverse groups of constituents to hear their opinions.”
He is among more than a dozen undecided Democrats in California, which has the largest delegation and an estimated population of as many as 500,000 Iranians in Southern California alone.
Reps. Susan Davis, Linda Sanchez and Karen Bass came out in favor of the nuclear accord this week as President Obama returned to Washington from a vacation and continued urging members of his party to help secure support.
Republicans are expected to oppose the deal.
The battle remains close in a state where cable television ads from a group called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran blanket airwaves to warn against what it calls the dangers of the deal.
On Tuesday, California Assembly members Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) and Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno) came out against the accord, joining Democratic Reps. Juan Vargas and Brad Sherman.
“Iran’s regional dominance and support for terror worldwide pose an extraordinary threat to the United States and our allies,” Alejo and Perea said in a joint statement. “America’s negotiators must insist on a better deal.”
The matter was personal for some of the demonstrators outside Lieu’s office.
“Throughout my teenage years, this nuclear issue has been overshadowing our lives. The threats of war were constant,” said Sohaela A., 28, who declined to disclose her last name for fear of reprisals from the Iranian government. “Now, I see this agreement as a turning point for the war threats to end.”
Sohaela, who works as an international relations researcher, still wears on her left arm a green bracelet -- a mark of supporting Iran’s Green Movement, which mobilized large-scale protests to dispute the official results of the 2009 election.
“I’ve lived half my adult life in both Iran and the United States,” and still have family there, she said. “I want both homes to be safe and secure.”
The Los Angeles Times has kept an informal survey of how the House Democrats in the California delegation break down on the issue:
Rep. Pete Aguilar
Rep. Xavier Becerra
Rep. Ami Bera
Rep. Julia Brownley
Rep. Tony Cardenas
Rep. Judy Chu
Rep. Jim Costa
Rep. Janice Hahn
Rep. Jared Huffman
Rep. Ted Lieu
Rep. Grace Napolitano
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
Rep. Raul Ruiz
Rep. Norma Torres
Rep. Karen Bass
Rep. Lois Capps
Rep. Susan Davis
Rep. Anna Eshoo
Rep. Sam Farr
Rep. John Garamendi
Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Barbara Lee
Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Rep. Alan Lowenthal
Rep. Doris Matsui
Rep. Jerry McNerney
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Rep. Scott Peters
Rep. Linda Sanchez
Rep. Adam Schiff
Rep. Jackie Speier
Rep. Eric Swalwell
Rep. Mark Takano
Rep. Mike Thompson
Rep. Maxine Waters
Rep. Brad Sherman
Rep. Juan Vargas
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier
Rep. Loretta Sanchez
FOR THE RECORD
8:17 a.m., Aug. 27: An earlier version of this article listed Luis Alejo and Henry T. Perea as members of the California congressional delegation opposing the Iran deal. They are members of the California Assembly.
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