Saturday, December 9, 2017

Report on meeting with Afreen Akhter, aide to Maryland Senator Van Hollen, at 1 PM on November 17

Report on meeting with Afreen Akhter, aide to Maryland Senator Van Hollen, at 1 PM on November 17

   Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility organized a meeting with Afreen Akhter, Senator Chris Van Hollen’s national security and foreign affairs adviser, at 1 PM on Friday, November 17 in Hart Senate Office Building, room 110.  Those participating were Charlie Cooper, Dr. Dick Humphrey, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, Dick Ochs, Mary Elieisar, Sr. Megan Rice and Max Obuszewski. 

 After introductions, we congratulated Sen. Van Hollen for co-sponsoring S. 200, introduced by Sen. Markey to remove the authorization for a first use of nuclear weapons from the president to Congress.  And we thanked the senator for supporting the Iran agreement.

  Charlie urged the senator to speak out for diplomacy with North Korea, and Dick Ochs urged the senator to co-sponsor S. 2047 which restricts military action in Korea, introduced by Sen. Murphy. She said she would check out S. 2047.  She added that S. 200 has no chance of passing as there is no bipartisan support.

   Afreen explained that the War Powers Act comes into play 60 days after the president has engaged in a war.  Then Congress gets involved.  Of course, it has not been utilized in the various wars for decades. 

    Regarding North Korea, she informed us about S.1591 - Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea (BRINK) Act of 2017 which Van Hollen and Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), both members of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced.  It places pressure on North Korea and its enablers. The bill is designed to offer foreign banks a stark choice: continue business with North Korea or maintain access to the U.S. financial system.  There is a similar bill in the House.
  Dick Ochs asked about Senator Corker getting involved with Markey’s legislation.  Afreen indicated there are no Republican co-sponsors of S. 200.

  Megan asked if there has been any conversation about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for disarmament.  The aide answered “No conversation.”  When Obama tried, there was much push back.

  Max promoted Dan Zak’s book ALMIGHTY which is about developing the bomb and the Transform Now Plowshares.  She indicated some interest in reading the book.

  Mary spoke with Dr. Gwen DuBois, who was unavailable to attend the meeting.  And Mary quoted from Gwen about the absurdity of spending $1.7 trillion tax dollars to upgrade the nuclear arsenal.  This upgrade would make the use of a nuclear weapon more likely.
Max mentioned the B61 nuclear bomb, which is a dial-a-yield system, making its use more likely.  Afreen was not familiar with the weapon.  Janice pointed out the horrible effects of nuclear weapons, and told her about the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemorations in Baltimore.  The aide was not familiar with the term Hibakusha, who are people who have experienced a nuclear blast.  The aide informed us that Senators Van Hollen, Feinstein and Markey have written letters of objection to portions of the plan to refurbish the nuclear arsenal.
   We informed her that on December 10, ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, will receive The Nobel Peace Prize for their work leading to the United Nations Treaty to Ban  Nuclear Weapons. In July of 2017, 122 nations called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons by adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. On September 20th, the treaty was opened for signatures and ratification. Immediately 53 nations signed and 3 have ratified (including The Holy See). This treaty comes into force 90 days after 50 nations ratify. Could the senator make a statement in support of the Nuke Ban Treaty?  She will take it back to the senator, and informed us that Van Hollen is a friend of the group the Ploughshares Fund.

  The Ploughshares Fund is a global security foundation working to build a safe, secure world by developing and investing in initiatives to reduce and ultimately eliminate the world’s nuclear stockpiles and to promote stability in regions of conflict where nuclear weapons exist.
Janice talked about the horrible conditions in Yemen, and Charlie reported that even chlorine tablets are in short supply,  Afreen acknowledged there is a blockade of humanitarian supplies.  We asked if the senator if he could introduce legislation to stop U.S. military intervention in the attack on Yemen, similar to House Continuing Resolution 81, which calls for the War Powers Resolution to remove U.S. Armed Forces from unauthorized hostilities in the Republic of Yemen.
  Van Hollen’s aide reminded us that the Senate voted down Sen. Rand Paul's amendment that would have forced Congress to pass a new law authorizing the U.S. to wage war against ISIS and combat threats overseas. A renewed effort will be made in 2018.  We were also told that Sen. Corker held up some arms sales to certain countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, because of the feud between the desert kingdom and Qatar.

  Mary reminded the aide that Van Hollen should do the right thing so that his legacy will be well-regarded.  Megan reminded her of the importance of negotiations with North Korea. Charlie urged the senator to call for no pre-conditions. She agreed. Janice talked about a panel discussion on North Korea at George Washington University.  The panelists said the negotiators must indicate there is no call for regime change and that North Korea should be recognized as a nuclear power. 

  The aide responded that the ideal would be for North Korea to renounce its nuclear arsenal.  Finally, Charlie called for an official end to the Korean War.  But it was a United Nations Joint Command which declared war on North Korea, so it is unclear how a peace treaty would come about.  Afreen reminded the group that Rex Tillerson was involved in back-channel negotiations with the North Koreans, but Trump undermined the effort.

Afreen indicated her door was always open, and we pledged to stay in touch.  Before we departed, a Van Hollen staffer took a photograph of Afreen and the PSR delegation just outside the office.


Max Obuszewski

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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