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Obama Officials Urge Jewish Groups Not to Back New Iran Sanctions

Two top Obama administration officials urged Jewish groups not to back new Iran sanctions, calling them “dangerous.”

The officials — from the White House national security team and the Treasury Department — spoke Wednesday with Jewish leaders in a call convened by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

JTA spoke with multiple participants on the call.

The officials outlined the terms of the interim six-month sanctions-for-nuclear rollback relief set to begin next week, saying it allows Iran no more than $7 billion of relief from the $100 billion that sanctions are costing the country. They also said the agreement increases inspections and adds safeguards against any advancement in Iran’s nuclear capability.

A number of the Jewish participants pressed the government officials on why the Obama administration opposes new sanctions under consideration in Congress, noting that the sanctions would only go into effect should Iran renege.

The officials said that even with the precaution, the legislation would be perceived by Iran and U.S. partners negotiating the deal as creating new sanctions, which would violate the terms of the interim agreement and lead to the collapse of the international coalition that has drawn Iran to talks through existing sanctions. The officials called the new sanctions “dangerous.”

A number of pro-Israel groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are lobbying intensively for the new sanctions. The U.S. House of Representatives last year passed the sanctions with a veto-proof majority, and 59 senators have sponsored the Senate version, shy of the 67 that would vitiate President Obama’s promised veto. Backers of the new sanctions say they would strengthen the hand of the six world powers at the talks, including the United States.

The officials walked back previous statements by Obama administration officials that called on supporters of sanctions to admit they would lead to war, saying that both sides are acting in good faith, but also urging those opposing the sanctions to defer to the judgment of negotiators.

The officials said that enforcement of existing sanctions remains rigorous, noting that David Cohen, the top Treasury official handling sanctions, is traveling to Turkey later this month to monitor enforcement.

They dismissed concerns raised by callers who noted visits to Tehran in recent weeks by Russian and other foreign officials, saying that such visits were routine and rarely led to actual business deals. The officials said the final status deal would not recognize an Iranian right to uranium enrichment, but that Iran likely would be allowed to continue enriching uranium at low levels.

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