Jewish groups applaud passage of Iran oversight bill

As Senate bill clears final hurdle, 150 representatives sign letter of support for Obama’s efforts toward nuclear deal

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

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker and Sen. Ben Cardin speak to reporters on Capitol Hill, Washington, April 14, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Andrew Harnik, File)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker and Sen. Ben Cardin speak to reporters on Capitol Hill, Washington, April 14, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON — The Senate passage of a bill to increase congressional oversight on a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran was greeted with enthusiasm by a number of Jewish groups Thursday. While the Senate voted to pass the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, a group of 150 members of the House of Representatives made sure that their voices were also heard in a J Street-supported letter supporting President Barack Obama in his efforts to reach a diplomatic agreement with Tehran.

Minutes after the bill’s passage by a vote of 98-1, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) applauded what it described as “the overwhelming bipartisan passage” of the bill, adding that “this important legislation provides Congress a mechanism to assert its historic foreign policy role and review any agreement to ensure it meets US objectives.”

The legislation, which enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship, will mandate increased congressional oversight of any comprehensive agreement reached with Iran over its nuclear program. In addition to giving Congress the option for a vote of approval or disapproval, it mandates the administration to deliver quarterly reports about Iran’s compliance with the conditions of the agreement.

In a statement released shortly after the bill’s passage, AIPAC wrote that it “urges the House to take speedy action on congressional review legislation and send it to the president for signature into law.” The original version of the bill was part of AIPAC’s March lobbying push at the conclusion of the organization’s national conference.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) also applauded the Senate’s passage of the bill.

“This legislation ensures essential oversight for a deal that would impact the security of the United States, Israel and the global community,” said Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy. “Congress instituted the current sanctions on Iran, and only Congress can remove them.”

“An anticipated nuclear deal with Iran, a country that already is a grave threat to regional and global security, must be thoroughly reviewed before it is finalized,” wrote AJC Executive Director David Harris in a statement. “Congress played a vital role in erecting the sanctions regime that pressed Iran to negotiate in earnest, but given the numerous unanswered questions surrounding the emerging deal, and the heightened concerns of US allies in the region, congressional review is essential.”

Shortly after the Senate passed the legislation, J Street announced that 150 members of Congress had signed on to a letter that constituted a show of support for the Obama administration’s negotiations toward a nuclear agreement with Iran.

The letter was authored by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and David Price (D-NC), and was signed by prominent Democrats such as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“As negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program continue, we urge you to stay on course, building on the recently announced political framework and continuing to work toward a strong and verifiable agreement between the P5+1 countries and Iran that will prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon,” the letter read. “We commend you and your negotiating team, as well as our coalition partners, for the significant progress made thus far.”

The missive went on to echo administration talking points that the alternative to talks could be war, and that military action by the US or Israel would only set back – and not destroy – Iranian nuclear development.

“We must allow our negotiating team the space and time necessary to build on the progress made in the political framework and turn it into a long-term, verifiable agreement,” the letter continued. “If we do not succeed, Congress will remain at-the-ready to act and present you with additional options to ensure that Iran is prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

“This strong signal of support for diplomacy could not come at a more critical or appropriate time. Negotiations under the framework toward a final agreement are taking place in earnest, while the Senate is considering legislation that would formalize a prudent and reasonable Congressional review process for any such agreement,” said Dylan Williams, J Street’s Vice President of Government Affairs. “This letter is a decisive rebuke to the opponents of diplomacy who are dangerously trying to kill negotiations and put the United States, our allies and the region on the path to another war.”

J Street touted the letter as an accomplishment for J Street members’ lobbying efforts during their policy conference. Pressing representatives to sign the letter of support was one of the goals of the group’s lobbying day in Washington.

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