Kerry to brief US Jewish groups on Iran deal Friday

Kerry to brief US Jewish groups on Iran deal Friday

Majority of US Jews approve of negotiations with Iran, want Congress to okay nuclear agreement, poll finds

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

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement on the Iran deal at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. (Carlos Barria/AP/Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement on the Iran deal at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. (Carlos Barria/AP/Pool)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to New York City Friday morning in order to deliver two addresses related to the nuclear deal signed between the P5+1 states and Iran earlier this month, including one to a key umbrella group of Jewish organizations.

The State Department confirmed Thursday evening that Kerry would meet with leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Jewish Committee.

According to the State Department, the secretary will discuss “the US-Israel relationship and regional issues.”

The recent Iran deal, which has worried many Jewish organization, including the Conference of Presidents, is one of the “regional issues” expected to be discussed.

The trip is meant to sell the deal to influential but skeptical audiences as the Obama administration battles to prevent a Congressional override of the agreement. Both pro-deal and anti-deal lobbying groups have pushed lawmakers and citizens alike to take a side in the developing political fight.

While in New York, Kerry will also participate in a discussion about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the accord between Iran and world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program, with the heads of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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.”

In a statement issued after the agreement was released, AJC wrote that it “remains deeply concerned about (i) Iran’s ICBM program, which cannot be explained except for ominous military purposes; (ii) its repeated calls, including in recent days, for the annihilation of Israel and ‘death to America’; (iii) its direct involvement in terrorism and support for terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah; (iv) its hegemonic ambitions in the region, from Lebanon to Syria, from Iraq to Yemen; and (v) its systematic repression of human rights, as amply documented in the most recent State Department report on human rights around the world.”

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

The administration has identified Jewish leaders as a demographic ripe for lobbying. Last week, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes met with a small cadre of Jewish Democratic lawmakers to discuss the deal. Rhodes is an Obama confidant who wrote the president’s speech during his 2013 visit to Israel and frequently addresses Jewish groups on behalf of the administration.

The administration’s efforts may find fertile ground.

A poll released Thursday by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal — and touted by the White House later in the day — indicated that American Jews support the agreement by a wide margin, and a clear majority of them want Congress to approve the deal.

“American Jews, more than Americans generally, tend to support the Iran deal and they want Congress to approve it,” said Steven M. Cohen, research professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive who oversaw and provided analysis for the poll.

American Jews were not only more supportive, they showed a higher level of involvement generally in the issue.

According to the data, 49 percent of American Jews support the agreement, compared to 28% of the American population at large. On the other side, 31% of American Jews oppose the deal, compared to 24% of Americans generally – and while 48% of Americans responded that they “don’t know enough to say,” the same was true for only one in five American Jews.

With Jewish groups lobbying Congress on both sides of the issue, the poll indicated that 53% of American Jews surveyed believe that Congress should “vote to approve the deal,” while 35% were against. An even high number, 59%, said they supported the idea of conducting negotiations with Iran. Just 19% opposed talks.

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