Kerry leaves Jewish leaders ‘concerned’ after ‘frank’ talks on Iran deal

In discussions with AJC, Conference of Presidents, says one participant, secretary did not respond ‘specifically enough to what was being raised’

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

(From left) Conference of Presidents Chairman Stephen M. Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein with Secretary of State John Kerry, July 24, 2015 (Courtesy)
(From left) Conference of Presidents Chairman Stephen M. Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein with Secretary of State John Kerry, July 24, 2015 (Courtesy)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry met Friday with the leaders of US Jewish organizations in New York, with the Iran nuclear agreement taking center stage. The talks were described as frank and important, but participants told The Times of Israel that concerns over the Iran deal were not resolved.

In two separate closed-door meetings, one with umbrella organization the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and the other with the American Jewish Committee, Kerry also took questions from the audience.

Kerry “discussed the provisions of the agreement and their implications, as well as, a wide-range of concerns raised by the American Jewish leaders about potential Iranian threats to the United States, the Middle-East and Israel,” the Conference said in a statement. “The Jewish leaders raised questions about provisions to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons program as well as concerns regarding Iran’s violations of human rights, its ballistic missile development program, ongoing threats against Israel, and expanding support for terrorist organizations.

“Among the issues raised were reports of provisions to shorten the embargoes on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles and secret accords dealing with inspections at Iran’s Parchin military base and the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s past nuclear activities,” the statement said.

“It was a very interesting exchange,” one attendee told the Times of Israel. “We spoke rather frankly and he gave his assessment. Some of the things we agree with and some of the things people disagreed with, but that is the nature of this debate.”

Kerry was asked about specific concerns, and an attendee said that although Kerry responded, he did not respond “specifically enough to what was being raised.”

“People remained concerned. He filled in some blanks and on some issues people still feel quite differently,” the attendee added. “Whether you agree with his answers or not, it was an important exchange.”

The meeting with Conference of Presidents involved more than 100 participants from a wide range of Jewish groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), incoming Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Jonathan Greenblatt, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel, and representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America. The meeting was civil, according to those present.

AIPAC is vehemently opposed to the agreement. It has launched a massive lobbying campaign in a bid to see it stonewalled by Congress, which is currently reviewing the terms of the deal.

American Jewish Committee spokesman Kenneth Bandler told the Times of Israel that Kerry met with the group for about 90 minutes. He did not divulge the contents of the discussion, explaining that it was officially off-the-record. The AJC has expressed concern about aspects of the agreement, but officials say that the organization has yet to come to a complete conclusion regarding its opinion on the deal.

A number of major Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents and the Anti-Defamation League, have taken a skeptical view toward a number of key provisions in the deal, which was hammered out in Vienna earlier this month.

Only Wednesday, the Conference of Presidents issued a press statement expressing deep concern regarding the provisions in the JCPOA, “including the five year prohibition on conventional weapon sales to Iran and eight year suspension on technology transfers for ballistic missiles, which can be short circuited by a declaration of Iranian compliance that leads to a ‘Broader Conclusion’ by the IAEA.”

In its initial response to the announcement of the deal with Iran early last week, AJC director David Harris warned that “the nuclear deal concluded in Vienna does not appear to address other extremely troubling aspects of Iranian behavior.”

Harris promised that his organization would share its opinions of the nuclear deal with members of Congress.

A poll by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal released Thursday, however, showed American Jews are far likelier than non-Jews to back the deal.

According to the survey, 49 percent of American Jews support the deal and 31 percent oppose it. Among all Americans, 28 percent support the deal and 24 percent oppose it.

JTA contributed to this report

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