Leaders of several Jewish and pro-Israel groups briefed on the Iran nuclear agreement by the Obama administration indicated they’re willing to give it time before pressing for new sanctions against the Iranian regime.
Over the past two days, White House officials held briefings for representatives from organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in an attempt to allay concerns that the six-month agreement would give Iran time to develop a nuclear weapon, threatening Israel.
The outreach to the groups, which have allies among lawmakers in both parties, may help President Barack Obama head off new congressional legislation to sanction Iran that the administration argues would jeopardize the deal.
Aipac said in a statement yesterday there are “serious concerns” about being able to reach a final accord that would ensure Iran doesn’t acquire a nuclear weapon, though it stopped short of urging immediate new sanctions. The Anti-Defamation League called the negotiations “an important step forward.”
“Given the many questions and concerns in the pro-Israel community about the Iran agreement, it is very smart of the Obama administration to reach out to explain their take on the deal and the steps ahead,” said William Daroff, chief lobbyist for the Jewish Federations of North America.
Obama and his aides are trying to reduce pressure for a new round of sanctions while the six-month accord is in effect, arguing that fresh action by Congress to punish Iran would undermine the international coalition that led the negotiations.
During a fundraiser last night in Beverly Hills, California, the president said the deal would bring “the first halt to the Iranian nuclear program in a decade” and lift a “cloud that has hovered over the Middle East.”
“That’s good for the United States, that’s good for our allies, that’s good for Israel,” Obama said at the event hosted by Univision Communications Inc. Chairman Haim Saban to raise money for Democratic congressional candidates.
As he introduced the president, Saban, a prominent Israel backer, expressed support for administration policy on Iran, crediting the sanctions program for bringing the government in Tehran to the bargaining table.
Earlier yesterday in San Francisco, Obama said in a speech that while “huge” challenges remain, “we cannot close the door on diplomacy.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said lawmakers would weigh whether new sanctions are needed after senators return from a break on Dec. 9. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has said he expected any legislation would give the administration the six-month window.
Daroff said representatives of pro-Israel groups were meeting on Capitol Hill with members of Congress to discuss whether to strengthen sanctions if Iran does not comply.
Aipac, the leading pro-Israel lobbying group, called for additional sanctions to be imposed only “should Iran violate this agreement or fail to agree to an acceptable final deal.”
Most Jewish leaders said the agreement would only work if Iran lived up to its end, and were concerned that it wouldn’t.
“The real test is implementation, to see what they are going to do to live up to this,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who was on a call yesterday. “We expressed concern they will use this as they have in the past just to have cover.”
Among the groups expressing at least limited backing for Obama’s position was the American Jewish Committee, whose executive director, David Harris, issued a statement calling the deal “a potentially important development” even as Iran “has maintained an indisputable posture of deceit and defiance” toward the rest of the world.
Like Aipac, Harris endorsed sanctions that would take effect only if Iran didn’t live up to the deal.
Support for the accord is not universal. At the Washington Political Action Committee, which ranked 14th among pro-Israel PACs in 2012 with $98,600 in donations, founder Morris Amitay criticized the agreement.
“I understand news of the deal was greeted with great joy in Iran. I certainly don’t blame them,” Amitay said. “I would be incredibly surprised if there wasn’t an all-out effort to show the defects in the agreement.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition, whose directors include casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and which supported U.S. military intervention in Syria, opposes the Iranian deal.
The group, which spent $6.3 million to oppose Obama in the 2012 presidential election, is urging members to lobby congressional Republicans.
“The whole world can see the very alarming bottom line: President Obama’s diplomacy is giving cheer to Tehran’s rogue regime and causing alarm among our friends in the region -– including Israel, Saudi Arabia and most the other Gulf states,” Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement.
The accord broke a decade-long diplomatic stalemate, setting limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for as much as $7 billion in relief from sanctions over six months.
Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear activities and in return won an easing of some curbs on oil, auto parts, gold and precious metals. The deal, which is reversible, releases some of Iran’s oil assets and allows it to keep exporting crude at current levels.
The Persian Gulf nation has the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves. Brent crude, the benchmark for half the world’s crude settled yesterday at $111 a barrel, a drop of less than 0.1 percent, after falling as much as 2.7 percent on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a vocal critic of the accord, calling it “an historic mistake.”
Netanyahu, who spoke with Obama by telephone after the deal was announced, is sending a team to Washington to talk to U.S. officials about the next phase in the talks, according to a text message yesterday from his office. A comprehensive accord must dismantle Iran’s “military nuclear capability,” Netanyahu said in the message.
Investors showed no concern that the agreement could hurt Israel. The country’s TA-25 Index fell 0.2 percent yesterday to 1,350.13 after a gain the previous day. The yield on the government’s 4.25 percent benchmark bond due 2023 fell six basis points yesterday, or 0.06 percentage point, to 3.56 percent.
The incoming executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Rabbi Jack Moline, said the agreement offered a “time-limited opportunity for Iran to, hopefully, begin to show its good faith.”