AIPAC offers Senate Democrats a way out on Iran
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AIPAC 2014

AIPAC offers Senate Democrats a way out on Iran

10,000 lobbyists expected to push lawmakers to sign letter delineating terms for final nuclear deal

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)

WASHINGTON — When some 10,000 AIPAC lobbyists hit Capitol Hill on Tuesday, pushing Senators to commit to supporting the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 will officially be at the top of their list.

Lobbyists will also urge senators to sign a letter spearheaded by one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) — along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — which covers some of the same ground as the bill, delineating a set of terms for a final agreement with Iran and stressing Congress’s role, “particularly if an acceptable deal requires sanctions relief or if a breakdown in talks requires additional sanctions legislation.”

The letter could provide a solution for Democratic senators, who have faced massive pressure from the Obama administration not to sign on to the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. The bill, sponsored by Menendez and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, would threaten additional sanctions against Iran should the current talks fail, or should a six-month interim nuclear deal signed in November expire without the six world powers reaching an agreement with Iran on the dismantlement of its alleged nuclear weapons program.

The administration has argued that the threat of additional sanctions will push Iran away from the negotiations table, but AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr told the organization’s supporters on Sunday morning that he believes that the prospect of more sanctions pressure will aid, not hinder, US efforts to reach a diplomatic solution.

“This bill would present Iran with a menu of consequences, including new sanctions, if the talks fail,” Kohr told attendees at the AIPAC Policy Conference’s opening plenary session. “We need Congress to keep the pressure on, to keep this issue in the public eye. Let’s be clear about our expectations: Congress cannot negotiate, but it can set clear boundaries.”

Another important piece of legislation for AIPAC, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, is likely to come to a vote in the House as early as Tuesday night – while organization activists are still milling around the halls of Congress on their legislative action day. House members, who approved over six months ago the House equivalent of the Menendez-Kirk bill, will be asked to support the legislation, which was a centerpiece of last year’s legislative action day.

AIPAC activists will ask House and Senate members alike to support the full $3.1 billion in security assistance that the United States committed to Israel for fiscal year 2015, and to vote in favor of the 2015 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

When they hit the Hill, activists will also emphasize their support for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and will tell legislators that they appreciate America’s efforts and hope that the talks succeed. AIPAC also supports engaging Arab nations to play a supporting role in the process, but is calling on members of Congress to refrain from attempts to impose a solution on Israel and the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for Washington on Sunday for talks about the US-led peace process as well as nuclear negotiations with Iran. He is set to meet on Monday with US President Barack Obama before addressing the delegates at the AIPAC conference.

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