Talks of a renewed diplomatic effort to reach a deal with Iran have caused some unease in Israel and among its supporters in the United States.
As Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu warned against falling for the Iranian charm offensive as “the Iranians are continuing to deceive so that the centrifuges continue spinning,” the pro-Israel lobby is also laying out its red lines for any future engagement with Tehran.
In a memo sent out on Friday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) joined the Israeli attempt to throw cold water on the idea that Iran, and its new president Hassan Rouhani, have made areal change in policy.
“Pleasant rhetoric will not suffice,” AIPAC states, “If Iran fails to act, sanctions must be increased.”
Rouhani’s new tone was on display this week with an interview he gave NBC news in which the Iranian president promised his country is not and will not be interested in developing nuclear weapons, and in a Washington Post opinion column in which he called for diplomatic engagement.
This gestures, coupled with a release of several political prisoners in Iran, did not go unnoticed in Washington, where the White House indicated that President Obama could be open to the idea of meeting with Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nation’s General Assembly next week.
Alerting its supporters for action, AIPAC stressed that while Rouhani is trying to change his tone, Iran’s actions on the ground have not changed and the country has continued to advance its nuclear program even after Rouhani was sworn in as president.
The pro-Israel lobby stated the U.S. should not agree to suspend any sanctions against Tehran before the Iranian’s adhere to UN resolutions, stop uranium enrichment, allow international inspection of nuclear sites, stop work on installing new centrifuges and move out of the country its stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Otherwise, AIPAC’s memo stressed, sanctions should not be removed but rather tightened.
“If Iran continues to advance its nuclear program, Washington should step up sanctions,” AIPAC noted. The memo also called on the administration and Congress to maintain a credible military threat against Iran and to “support Israel’s right to act against Iran if it feels compelled—in its own legitimate self-defense—to act.”
The lobby’s strong position on the issue and similar views expressed by Israeli leaders in the past days are all meant to send Obama a clear message of Israel’s skepticism regarding the new diplomatic opening with Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to reiterate this approach in his meeting with Obama on September 30 and in his address to the UN General Assembly the next day.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.