American UN ambassador: We won’t cut ‘bad deal’ with Iran

Administration steps up pressure on lawmakers to freeze bill for new sanctions against the Islamic Republic

Newly confirmed US envoy to the UN Samantha Power testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C., last month. (photo credit: AP/Cliff Owen)
Newly confirmed US envoy to the UN Samantha Power testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C., last month. (photo credit: AP/Cliff Owen)

NEW YORK — The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, reiterated America’s commitment to thwarting Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions at the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial conference summit in Manhattan Thursday.

“Let me be absolutely clear: President [Barack] Obama is determined to ensure that the Islamic Republic does not acquire a nuclear weapon,” Power said at the gathering. “Let me repeat: The United States cannot, and will not, allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Addressing the subject of nuclear negotiations with Iran, Power said the Obama administration considered a bad deal worse than no deal and that the administration would not accept a bad deal.

“We understand why some of you are skeptical about engaging Iran. But please remember that we are not engaging Iran for the sake of engaging Iran,” she said. “We are striving to secure an unambiguous and verifiable guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program is a peaceful one and that its government will not build or acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Power only touched briefly on the subject of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The administration is grateful for the strong public support that exists, including from the Jewish community, for the current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians,” she said.

Power said one of the priorities of her job was to “push ceaselessly” to end discrimination against Israel within UN bodies.

“That discrimination is not right, and it must end,” Power said.

In her appearance, Power also announced that the United Nations had agreed to transfer a full copy of its wartime commission archives to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

At the conclusion of her talk, ADL director Abraham Foxman presented Power with a gift: a heavy book with the word “Jew” written in it 6 million times — 4,400 times per page, Foxman said — to remind Power of the Holocaust.

“I love you,” Foxman told Power as he embraced her.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration stepped up pressure on the Senate to hold off on another round of Iran sanctions as Western powers tested Tehran’s willingness to scale back its nuclear aims.

Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew planned to meet with the Senate Democratic leadership and members of the Senate Banking Committee late Thursday in hopes of convincing lawmakers to delay plans to meet next week and draft a new package of penalties.

Although the White House insists that tough sanctions have forced Iran to negotiate, it wants Congress to pause in imposing new, punitive measures to give negotiators flexibility in talks with Iran. Lawmakers argue that this is no time to let up on Tehran.

“It’s working,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a member of the Banking Committee. “It’s pinching the economy of Iran and that’s what we ought to keep doing as much as we can and as fast as we can.”

Unnerving for the administration is the prospect that a Senate panel would be crafting new sanctions at the same time as Iran and six world powers meet in Geneva next week for another round of negotiations.

Western powers have been trying to determine Iran’s seriousness in complying with demands that it prove its nuclear program is peaceful since reformist President Hassan Rouhani took office in August. Both sides described their last round of talks as positive, with Tehran ready to discuss some curbs on programs that can create both atomic energy and the fissile core of nuclear arms.

The Banking Committee is weighing a bill that would blacklist Iran’s mining and construction sectors. It largely mirrors a House measure that passed overwhelmingly by a 400-20 vote in July. That bill also called for all Iranian oil sales to end by 2015.

The Senate bill may narrow that time frame, block international investment in more economic sectors, try to close off Iran’s foreign accounts and tighten Obama’s ability to waive requirements for allies and key trading partners who continue to do business with Iran.

Administration officials met last week with Senate staffers and made their case to some American Jewish groups during a White House meeting earlier this week.

The powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has considerable sway in Congress, favors more sanctions to stop Iran.

Administration officials say Obama is not seeking an open-ended delay to new sanctions and believes there may come a point where additional economic penalties against Iran are necessary. Officials say the administration is also emphasizing to lawmakers and outside groups that the president wants to keep the current sanctions regime in place while negotiating with Iran.

Even if the administration succeeds in convincing Democratic leaders and Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., to delay a vote, proponents of tough sanctions such as Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., are likely to try to attach new sanctions to the annual defense policy bill that the Senate could consider as early as the week of November 12.

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