In a carefully worded statement awaited by many observers, the main pro-Israel lobby focused more on pushing for a tough final agreement with Iran on its nuclear program than on blasting the United States and several other countries for signing an interim agreement with Iran that Israel has denounced.
Even on the question of the final agreement, which is to be negotiated over the next six months, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee took a nuanced approach on the question of further sanctions against Iran and on the contentious issue of Iran’s enrichment of uranium under a hoped-for final agreement.
Among other things, the statement, issued November 25, does not explicitly demand that Iran be required to accept “zero enrichment” of uranium in the final agreement, as Israel has demanded.
The statement alludes to its concern on this count, noting as one of its “serious concerns” what it sees as the agreement’s implicit willingness to allow Iran to continue with some enrichment activity.
“American officials deny that they recognized any Iranian ‘right’ to enrich, but appear to have conceded as a practical matter that Iran will be allowed some enrichment capacity,” AIPAC states.
But the lobby formulates its own red line in the statement differently than Israel: It demands instead that any final deal “deny Tehran a nuclear weapons capability,” a term whose conditions the statement does not specifically define.
The statement appears to reflect a careful balancing act, and an effort to ensure that it does not paint itself into a corner by setting extreme starting positions. The pro-Israel lobby even approvingly notes several provisions of the interim agreement that will limit or roll back certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear program before delineating “elements of this agreement [that] raise serious concerns for a final accord.”
Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but many experts say it appears to be designed to develop nuclear weapons, or to enable Iran to do so quickly, if it wishes to in the future. Several U.N. Security Council resolutions have in particular called on Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium — a key step for developing nuclear weapons.
The AIPAC statement notes that the interim agreement will allow Iran to continue uranium enrichment “in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions — while gaining some sanctions relief.” But it notes also that the agreement will require Iran to dial back its uranium enrichment from 20% to 5%, a level that makes it harder to move quickly to nuclear weapons level enrichment of 90%. AIPAC also notes that the uranium Iran has already enriched to 20% will be converted under the agreement into forms that make this material difficult to convert back to use for weapons.
On the issue of further sanctions against Iran, which has put the pro-Israel lobby at odds with the administration, AIPAC is now taking a more careful approach. The group is stressing the need for further sanction legislation in Congress in order to increase pressure on Iran, but it is no longer calling for immediate sanctions. Instead, it seems to have adopted the approach, detailed by several key senators over the weekend, which advocates the passage of new sanctions legislation, while ensuring the legislation is only implemented if Iran does not live up to its commitments under the interim agreement.
“Congress should establish clear consequences — by legislating additional sanctions — should Iran violate this agreement or fail to agree to an acceptable final deal,” the AIPAC statement reads.
The lobby ends its statement with a series of quotes of congressional leaders, carefully selected to reflect both sides of the isle, expressing their skepticism about the deal and calling for tougher measures against Iran.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was 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.