Leaders of some the most influential Jewish groups in the United States have pledged that they will enter a 60-day moratorium in making a public case for more sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Senior Obama administration officials, including Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, have asked senators to hold off on a new sanctions bill that seeks to cut off Iran from selling any of its oil, among other punitive measure, in order to allow recent talks with the Iranians to, in the words of lead U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman, “gain traction.”
It appears that the White House’s lobbying effort is having some positive effect in the Senate, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported on Friday that Jewish leaders in the U.S. were also receptive to the administration’s plan:
Leaders of four major Jewish organizations have promised the Obama Administration a 60-day moratorium during which they will refrain from conducting any public campaign urging Congress to strengthen U.S. sanctions against Iran.
The pledge was given during a sometimes tense meeting at the White House this week between a group of senior Administration officials led by National Security Adviser Susan Rice and executives and leaders from an ad hoc “quartet” of influential Jewish organizations: AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
The pledge, however, reportedly doesn’t include private discussions with members of Congress. “Sources in the Jewish establishment emphasized that they did not make any commitment to refrain from supporting new sanctions in their private dealings with the U.S. lawmakers,” Haaretz reports.
Conservate and hawkish groups and legislators have been pushing for increased sanctions on Iran despite what the U.S. and its international partners see as significant progress in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. And Obama officials have been pleading with the Senate to hold off, at least temporarily, to give space for what they see as conditions for a potential agreement. “Some very important things are happening,” Sherman said last week, “we are beginning to understand each other.”
According to the Associated Press, it appears that Obama officials have “convinced a number of senators on Thursday to hold off on another round of Iran sanctions.”
“As one member of the [Senate Banking] committee, my attitude is if something is going on that may lead to a positive result, let’s see where that ends up,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, (R-NB) according to the AP. “We can always pass a sanctions bill.” Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) said the White House had “made a good case,” while Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said it might make sense to delay sanctions “and let them do their negotiations.”
“I would enforce fully the sanctions that we have because they are working and brought Iran to the table, we think, and test it to see if it’s real,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) told Politico. “But I would not add additional sanctions at this time.”
Other senators like Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) remain skeptical and it’s unclear what Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) has decided. Johnson is the chair of the Senate Banking Committee which is taking the lead on moving forward with the House sanctions bill. His office did not respond when asked for comment.
The House, meanwhile, has been pushing the Senate to act on their sanctions bill. “The House has acted on this important issue already,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, according to a report in the Hill this week. “It’s time for the Senate to follow suit.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a speech at the ADL’s centennial dinner on Thursday, said “[t]he United States is presently testing Iranian intentions for a diplomatic solution,” and, echoing Kerry’s comments, added, “As we engage Iran along with our partners, we are very clear-eyed about the reality in the Middle East. Iran is a state sponsor of terror, responsible for spreading hatred and extremism throughout the region. But foreign policy is not a zero-sum game. If we can find ways to resolve disputes peacefully, we are wise to explore them.”
The Hill reports that “[a] source at an organization present at the meeting told The Hill his group ‘categorically denies that any commitment was given for any such moratorium.'”