Washington — Jewish groups were split Friday over a possible nuclear deal with Iran as the White House called Israeli and Saudi criticism premature and unease about the plan grew among U.S. lawmakers and Middle Eastern allies.
“There is no deal, but there is an opportunity here for a possible diplomatic solution, and that is exactly what the president is pursuing,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama on Air Force One to New Orleans.
“So any critique of the deal is premature,” Earnest said.
Criticism also begun bubbling up from some leading pro-Israel groups in Washington. White House officials met some of the more hawkish American Jewish leaders last week but failed to win broad support for a pause in further sanctions against Iran.
“Any deal that breathes life back into Iran’s economy in return for token and superficial moves that put Tehran no further from nuclear breakout … appears to be a horrific strategic error,” said Josh Block, chief executive officer of The Israel Project, a non-partisan, pro-Israel organization.
J Street, a more liberal lobbying group, took a different tack, urging supporters on its website to “tell your senators: don’t undermine Iran negotiations with new sanctions.”
There was no immediate comment on the Geneva talks from the largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.
Tehran, engaged in a critical round of talks in Geneva with the United States and five other world powers, is seeking relief from financial sanctions imposed by America and the European Union that have slashed its oil sales, severely hurting its economy.
Obama said on Thursday that he was open to “modest relief” on sanctions if Iran halts advancements on its nuclear program as talks on a permanent deal continue.