Tough Senate Bill Takes Aim at Iran

As AIPAC Conference Nears, Push for Coordination With Israel

AIPAC Looming: With the AIPAC conference approaching, some lawmakers are pushing for a tougher American stance against Iran.
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AIPAC Looming: With the AIPAC conference approaching, some lawmakers are pushing for a tougher American stance against Iran.

By Nathan Guttman

Published February 27, 2012, issue of March 02, 2012.
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Israel had urged the United States to view achieving nuclear capabilities as a red line. In a meeting of the American-Israeli strategic dialogue teams in late 2011, a joint statement used for the first time the term “nuclear capability.” The term, however, has not yet been adopted by the administration as an official policy.

“We don’t see Iran as having pure intentions,” an Israeli official said. “If they’ll have the capability, they will be able to break out whenever they decide.”

The Non-Proliferation Treaty does not prevent member states from developing nonmilitary nuclear capabilities as long as they keep their programs transparent and adhere to the treaty’s rules. Iran has argued that it therefore has the right to continue its nuclear activity, but the United States has made it clear that since Iran has not complied with NPT requirements, it should not be automatically granted the right to peaceful nuclear activity allowed under the treaty.

A bipartisan slate of 32 co-sponsors has already signed on to the Senate resolution, and its supporters believe that the number will grow significantly in the run-up to AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which will begin on March 4. But in order to achieve Democratic support for the bill, authors were already forced to compromise, and the resolution underwent several changes in order to water down what was seen as too hawkish language. A clause stating that it is “within the power and capabilities of the United States government” to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities was deleted after Democrats argued that it resembled an authorization for use of force. At the request of some Democratic senators, a sentence was added to mention diplomatic efforts as a means of reaching the goal. Still, several key Democrats from the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees have yet to sign on.

In an attempt to highlight diplomacy and make clear that war was not a preferred solution, Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina began circulating a letter in the House of Representatives, calling on the administration to do everything in its power to avoid war. “We’re not saying we should take military options off the table, we’re saying we should try to negotiate before bombs start flying,” Ellison said in a February 17 interview with the Forward. “We need to talk until we reach the conclusion that it cannot be solved, but I believe we can reach an agreement.”

The letter is backed by dovish Jewish groups Americans for Peace Now and J Street, which also worked to try and change the language of the Senate resolution introduced by senators Graham, Lieberman and Casey. “It has been a long time since we tried negotiating with Iran, and it will be foolish not to use this tool,” said Dylan Williams, director of government affairs at J Street.

But attention will turn in the coming weeks to other voices on this issue. AIPAC intends to have delegates participating in its annual conference lobby for the Senate resolution when they meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill. The conference is scheduled to take place at a time described by analysts as critical for Israel’s attempt to block Iran’s nuclear program. Israel, according to reports, is contemplating carrying out an attack possibly as early as this spring, and the United States faces a narrow window of opportunity to dissuade Israel from taking this route. Until now, AIPAC has been careful not to be seen as beating the war drums and has maintained an official position of supporting the Obama administration’s effort to first try and resolve the crisis diplomatically.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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