Posts Tagged ‘Obama Senate Democrats Iran’

Iran could seize on new sanctions bill to drive wedge between Israel lobby, U.S. public

December 29, 2013

One big difference between looming clash and previous AIPAC-Administration showdowns: Americans couldn’t care less about AWACs – but are dead set against war with Iran.
By     |      Dec. 29, 2013

The Huffington Post headline “Saboteur Sen. Launching War Push” on December 19 and the enraged Jewish reactions to it escaped intense scrutiny because of end-of-the-year vacations and the media’s need to sum up 2013.   The incendiary headline, however, should serve as a shot across the bow, intended or not, about the malevolent maelstrom that could engulf the American Jewish establishment in the wake of its unequivocal and nearly unanimous support for new sanctions on Iran.

Under the headline, in the middle of the homepage of the most-widely read news site in the world, was a picture of New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of the main sponsors of the proposed Nuclear Iran Prevention Bill 2013. He was speaking from a podium, behind a lectern on which the name and emblem of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC was boldly displayed.

The message couldn’t be clearer: Menendez was a warmonger. And the people backing him, inspiring him and/or pushing him belonged to AIPAC and the pro-Israel community.

Jewish reactions were fast and furious: David Harris of the American Jewish Committee was “appalled” by the “shameful attack” on Menendez. The Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman wrote in a letter to the editor published on the Huffington Post website that the photo of Menendez speaking at an AIPAC event “implies that he was trying to ‘sabotage’ the administration’s efforts on Iran for reasons related to Israel under pressure from American Jews. We are shocked that a version of the anti-Semitic theme that ‘Jews manipulate the U.S. Government’ was boldly featured on your site.”

Foxman also disputed the basic premise of the disputed headline:  “We and many in the U.S. and around the world believe that setting the table now for future sanctions against Iran that would kick in if diplomacy fails to achieve a nuclear accord will enhance the likelihood for reaching that agreement without the need for military action.”

This is not the view of the Administration, which has warned with varying degrees of insistence and alarm that the sanctions bill could derail nuclear talks with Iran and thus, inevitably, increase the chances of a military confrontation. American Jewish leaders privately  go so far as to suspect that the inspiration for the kind of incendiary headline that Huffington Post chose was the direct result of background briefings and prodding by Administration officials.

Whether it was or it wasn’t, it is the kind of insinuation that Jewish groups should be bracing for, many times over, as the battle over the sanctions bill is bound to escalate as soon as the 113th Congress reconvenes for its Second Session next week.  Given that all of the major Jewish groups – with the exception of J-Street –  have spoken out publicly and unequivocally in support of a position that is so staunchly rejected by the Administration, the stage is being set for a showdown that more than justifies comparisons to similar face-offs in the past, including the 1981 skirmish with the Reagan Administration over the sale of early-warning AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia and the 1991 clash with George H Bush over settlements and loan guarantees.

The pro- Israel lobby lost both of those campaigns, but those defeats didn’t kill it – they only made the lobby stronger. As JJ Goldberg recounts in his book “Jewish Power” the campaign against the AWACS sale galvanized the Jews, consolidated AIPAC’s standing in Washington and convinced the Reagan Administration that it was a force to be reckoned with and, if possible, enlisted on the Administration’s side. In 1992, the loan guarantees for Soviet immigrant absorption remained frozen until Yitzhak Rabin replaced Yitzhak Shamir as Israeli prime minister, but George Bush went on to lose the November elections, thus creating the unspoken myth that even a president could pay with his job if he tangled too strongly with those powerful Jews and their allies.

Win or lose, however, there is one stark difference between those two renowned altercations and the current situation vis-a-vis Iran: U.S. public opinion couldn’t care less about AWACS and loan guarantees, one way or another, but a military engagement with Iran is something that the American people worry about, and largely – and sometimes vehemently – oppose. A campaign in support of the Senate’s Iran sanctions bill could pit the Jewish establishment not only against the Administration, but also put it on a dangerous collision course with large segments of US public opinion, mostly on the left, and with the American media as well.

But even that altercation would pale in comparison to the unprecedented and untenable situation that the Jewish leadership might find itself in if the Administration loses the sanctions fight, despite a presidential veto, and if its worst case scenarios of  an Iranian walkout and an escalation in military tensions are borne out.

Supporters of sanctions, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Jewish groups that support the current Senate bill, maintain that Iran has its back against a wall of economic hardships  created by the current sanctions and that the threat  of even more sanctions  would only increase Tehran’s willingness to make nuclear concessions.

There are those – including the editors of the Huffington Post, evidently – who view this line of reasoning as disingenuous and its proponents as seeking to lead the US to a military confrontation. But even if one ignores such skepticism, supporters of the sanctions bill cannot rule out the possibility that the Iranian regime will either feel compelled to break off talks because of internal pressure by Iranian hardliners, or might even view a new sanctions bill as a unique opportunity to drive a huge wedge between Israel and its lobby, on the one hand, and the Administration and large parts of the American public on the other.

After all, the Administration is already coming close to claiming that legislation of new sanctions, even if they are conditional and set to kick in only in the future, is tantamount to a violation of the November 24 interim nuclear accord signed in Geneva. Iran might very well decide to break off talks, to pin the blame on Congress and the Jews, to cite the Administration’s own statements as corroborating evidence and to leave the P5+1 countries, their politicians and their publics to bicker and recriminate among themselves.

Some people might compare this situation to the 2003 Iraq War, in which Israel and right-wing American Jews were also accused of pushing America to war. In that case, however, the war enjoyed sizeable public support, at least at the outset, Israel and organized Jewry played only a minor public role in prodding the Administration to act and the Administration itself had no history of suspicion and ill will with Israel or its supporters and no interest in pinning the blame on either.

Iran, it should be clear, is no Iraq, in any way, shape or form. Whatever one’s view of the Iranian talks and of the wisdom of new sanctions legislation, it would be foolhardy to ignore the precarious predicament that U.S. Jews may soon find themselves in – one in which headlines alluding to warmongering senators and their Jewish supporters will be much more the rule than the exception but may also be the least of Jewish worries.

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Top Iranian official calls for direct talks with US amid fear nuclear deal will come apart

December 27, 2013
Mideast Iran US Nucle_Leff.jpg

Oct. 26, 2010 – FILE photo of worker riding a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. The top foreign adviser to Iran’s supreme leader on Friday called for separate talks directly with the US amid the multilateral negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. (AP)

TEHRAN, Iran –  The top foreign adviser to Iran’s supreme leader on Friday called for separate talks directly with the United States amid the multilateral negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

The remarks Friday by Ali Akbar Velayati signaled a high-level endorsement of the policies of President Hassan Rouhani, who has  been sharply criticized by hardliners over the landmark nuclear deal that Iran reached with world powers last month and over other contacts with the U.S.

Velayati said Iran benefits by talking separately with each of the so-called “5+1” powers — the grouping of the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany, with which it negotiated the interim nuclear deal and with which it is still to work out a permanent accord. Each has separate interests, he said in comments on television that were also carried on the semi-official Mehr news agency.

“We aren’t on the right path if we don’t have one-on-one talks with the six countries,” he said. `We have to talks with the countries separately. … It would be wrong if we bring the countries into unity against us, since there are rifts among them over various international issues.”

Hard-liners have blasted the nuclear accord as a surrender to Western pressure and have criticized Rouhani over phone conversation he had with President Barack Obama in September when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with his American counterpart. U.S. officials have also said Iran and the Americans met in secret for months ahead of the nuclear deal. Under the accord, reached in Geneva, Iran is to limit its uranium enrichment for six months in return for an easing of some sanctions, pending negotiation of a permanent deal.

Experts from Iran and the world powers will hold a new round of talks Monday in Geneva on implementing the interim accord, one of Iran’s senior negotiators, Abbas Araghchi, and Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Friday.

The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge saying its program is only for peaceful purposes, including power generation and developing medical treatments.

Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said late Thursday that the country is building a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment but they need further tests before they can be mass produced. His comments appeared aimed at countering hard-liner criticism by showing the nuclear program is moving ahead and has not been halted by the accord.

“The new generation of centrifuges is under development. But all tests should be carried on it before mass production,” Salehi said, according to state TV. He did not elaborate on how long that would take.

He also said Iran has a total of 19,000 centrifuges, though he did not say how many were operational. In August, Iran said it had 18,000 including some 1,000 advanced ones centrifuges. Iran previously gave the U.N. nuclear watchdog information on the new generation of machines, which are able to enrich uranium faster.

Under the Geneva deal, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent and neutralize its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium.

Enriched uranium can be used to build a weapon if it is enriched more than 90 percent. At lower levels, it is used to power nuclear reactors.

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Fox News is also reporting on Friday afternoon, December 27, 2013, that Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is now voicing very serious reservations about the deal on Iran’s nuclear program favored by the Obama Administration.

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From Huffington Post earlier in the week:

WASHINGTON — As the United States finally puts a decade of war behind it, a group of senators, including 15 Democrats, is defying the White House and threatening to push the country into a fresh war with Iran.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is leading the charge to pass legislation in January that would impose tougher sanctions on Iran, despite dire warnings from the White House, Iranian leaders, 10 Democratic committee chairs and a host of liberal groups that such an effort could sink a delicate nuclear agreement already in place. Under that Nov. 24 deal, Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions for a period of six months.

The Senate bill, which has 19 Republican cosponsors, takes a hard line, levying new sanctions on Iran unless the country’s leaders agree to abandon all uranium enrichment — what some have called an “absurd” stance. In the past, both John Kerry, then a U.S. senator, and Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, have said that Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said earlier this month that if the Senate moved forward with its bill, the current nuclear deal would be dead. A senior Obama administration official went further, telling The Huffington Post that Senate action makes it “far more likely that we’ll be left only with a military option” regarding Iran.

Here are the 15 Democratic senators willing to risk a war with Iran rather than let White House and Iranian leaders continue negotiations.

1. Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the bill’s sponsor

robert menendez

2. Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska)

mark begich

3. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.)

richard blumenthal

4. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.)

cory booker

5. Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.)

ben cardin

6. Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.)

robert casey

7. Sen. Chris Coons (Del.)

chris coons

8. Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.)

joe donnelly

9. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)

kirsten gillibrand

10. Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.)

kay hagan

11. Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.)

mary landrieu

12. Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.)

joe manchin

13. Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.)

mark pryor

14. Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.)

chuck schumer

15. Sen. Mark Warner (Va.)

mark warner

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Secretary of State John Kerry’s stance on Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. As a senator, Kerry said that he believed Iran had such a right. But as secretary of state, he said last month that “there is no inherent right to enrich” and that the current proposed agreement states that Iran could only do that by mutual agreement.