The Obama administration is battling Congress over Iran to keep alive hopes of a nuclear deal that is being vigorously opposed by Israel, which has gone into a lobbying overdrive to defeat the nascent agreement.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney used unusually strong language to warn Congress that fresh sanctions on Iran, which are under consideration, would wreck international negotiations to restrain Tehran’s nuclear programme. He asserted that such a move would send Washington on a “march to war.”
The White House raised the alarm in view of the new sanctions legislation against Iran being finalised by Congress, squarely undermining Tehran’s financial transactions, which could, in turn, devastate the country’s exports.
Observers point out that many U.S. Congressmen are under intense pressure from the pro-Israel lobby, which has been activated in the United States to scupper the deal. The Times of Israel is quoting Israeli Trade Minister Naftali Bennett as saying that he intended to personally travel to the U.S. in order to “lobby dozens of members of the U.S. Congress.” Mr. Bennet, who belongs to the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, said he would “personally explain (to lawmakers) … that Israel’s security is in jeopardy.”
The Minister stressed that “the survival of Israel and the security of the Western world” depended on dismantling Iran’s nuclear programme.
He warned that if in 10 years “a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York,” it will be “because of concessions that happened in recent days.”
Mr. Bennett’s rejection of the possible deal, which was nearly clinched last week in Geneva by negotiators from Iran and the six global powers, amplified Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call urging supporters to go on an all-out offensive to wreck the deal.
Unsurprisingly, the lobbying heavyweight, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is lending its considerable weight to scuttle the deal. “AIPAC continues to support congressional action to adopt legislation to further strengthen sanctions, and there will absolutely be no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts,” said the group’s president, Michael Kassen.
The proposed agreement has led to an unusual spectacle where the United States, Israel’s chief ally in West Asia, has become a target of Tel Aviv’s angst.
In their response to expressions of Israel’s deeply embedded fears resulting from the deal, the Obama administration has been vigorously arguing that far from being detrimental, an agreement with Iran would qualitatively enhance the security of Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been piloting U.S. efforts to forge a deal with Iran, observed in Geneva that “Israel is far safer if you make certain that Iran cannot continue the [nuclear] programme.” “Now, every day that we don’t have it [the deal], they’re continuing it.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif extended Mr. Kerry’s argument by pointing out that, “The result of sanctions against Iran has been 19,000 centrifuges for Iran.” Mr. Zarif was referring to the dramatic expansion of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity during the period when Tehran has been swamped by a cascade of sanctions.
Back in Washington from his hectic diplomatic sojourn, Mr. Kerry has waded headlong into battle with Congress, to rescue the endangered deal. On Wednesday, he is set to meet behind closed doors with members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee to try and block the new sanctions. Also on the same day, Vice-President Joseph R. Biden and other senior officials will brief Senate Democratic leaders to build the administration’s case.
Though the sanctions, if passed, would take three to six months to enforce, administration officials are worried that such a move would activate hardliners in Tehran who are opposed to the deal, but are lying low, because Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei is backing the deal. Besides, the U.S. apprehends it would be much harder to forge consensus among the global powers, including Russia and China, after the new sanctions law is passed.