Four U.S. Jewish organizations are said to be giving the Obama administration a 60-day interval to get Iran to comply with western demands before the four groups turn the screws on Congress to tighten sanctions against Iran.
Is that really how things work in Washington?
The US media has been silent on this question even as the Israeli press reports the meaning of a meeting that took place at the White House behind closed doors last Tuesday with those Jewish groups.
As we reported, Obama met with what the JTA called a “small coterie” of Jewish leaders at the White House amid “signals that the Obama and Netanyahu governments are parting ways on Iran strategy.” Heaven forbid. That can’t happen! But the signals included a speech the night before by Secretary of State John Kerry (shown above with Netanyahu in Italy Oct. 23) decrying “fear tactics,” intended to undermine the talks with Iran.
The four US Jewish groups at the White House were all rightwing and were dubbed the “quartet” by Haaretz, which reported that they gave the administration a “limited ‘grace period’” after an “understanding was reached” with the president and top staff of the National Security Council. The understanding? We won’t ask for more sanctions yet if you assure us that you won’t weaken sanctions against Iran during the next high-level P5+1 meetings to convene in Geneva, beginning next week.
The understanding was reached 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 and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
Though they refrained from describing it as “a deal” or a quid pro quo, sources familiar with the meeting said they had agreed to a limited “grace period” only after hearing assurances from the Administration that it had no intention of easing sanctions or of releasing Iranian funds that have been “frozen” in banks around the world.
Following this news, Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Congress should not pass new tighter sanctions against Iran and give the Obama administration time (60 days, we’re guessing) to “test” the chances for a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Al-Monitor’s Barbara Slavin put Sen. Levin’s accommodation in the context of the top-level White House meeting:
Following fairly upbeat meetings in Geneva last month, the Obama administration has been lobbying hard for a pause in new legislative action…
The administration has also spent considerable time briefing Israel about the talks and this week reportedly convinced four major US Jewish organizations to agree to a 60-day moratorium on pressuring Congress to vote on new sanctions.
Meanwhile, in Israel, the Jerusalem Post has sought to debunk the Haaretz report: “Jewish organizations deny 60-day delay on Iran sanctions push.”
“No one has given any commitment to make some public moratorium,” said sources with an organization represented at the meeting, “categorically denying” that any such commitment was given.
“I can tell you, within AJC, no decision has been made to revisit support for the Senate measure,” David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “There’s no process in place to reconsider our decision.”
Marsha Cohen at Lobelog has also followed the “Gang of Four”‘s demands and the varying reports:
Chemi Shalev of Haaretz initially reported early Friday morning that the pro-Israel Gang of Four had agreed to tone down their demand that new Iran sanctions be enacted immediately, without waiting to see whether the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 will reveal any signs of progress….
By Friday afternoon, however, Shalev had found an anonymous source affiliated with an organization represented at the meeting who categorically denies that any commitment was given for any such moratorium… [A]ccording to Shalev, “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.”
In the new framing, the leaders of the four Jewish organizations have merely allowed for a “time out”, and have “agreed to accede to the Administration’s request and to refrain from campaigning on behalf of stronger sanctions at this time.” According to Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (yes he was there, even though he lashed out at Kerry):
“That means that we are not lobbying for additional sanctions and we are not lobbying for less sanctions,” Foxman told Haaretz as well as other U.S. media outlets.
…Although the Haaretz report alluded only to a temporary “cease fire” in public campaigning and only in connection to additional sanctions, some officials were concerned that the publication might be misinterpreted in Congress as a signal that Jewish groups did not support stronger sanctions, or worse, that they would not oppose an easing of the sanctions already in place.
The Haaretz revelation … which were meant to be kept secret, sparked a flurry of denials from outside groups that had been kept out of the White House meeting – but also from others who were well aware of its outcome but were nonetheless miffed or embarrassed by its exposure.
That “hiatus is only tactical in nature.” Foxman goes on the explain they’ve got this covered: they’ll be having another meeting at the White House scheduled for next month.
How often does the head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee get to visit Obama? And just who is deciding foreign policy here?
Lessening sanctions is the Iranians’ chief demand for the talks, notably the restrictions on banking. As the Iranian journalist Kourosh Ziabari wrote at our site:
According to the proposal, Iran would remove the concerns of the P5+1 group of world countries through confidence-building measures and increased transparency in its nuclear activities, and in return, the Western powers will offer incentives to Iran by lifting the unilateral and multilateral sanctions on a step-by-step basis.
Israel and its American friends want guarantees the sanctions will not be lessened before going into the next round of talks. So– what’s the point of the talks? The talks are a non-starter if easing the sanctions are not on the table.
And Hassan Rouhani seems to see the writing on the wall, retweeting this from the country’s supreme leader:
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 3, 2013
As you read this, remember that John Kerry had the temerity to suggest that Israelis were trying to manipulate American policy. Last Monday night he said:
Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting… to the test [whether or not Iran really desires to pursue only a peaceful program]. I suggest that the idea that the United States of America as a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.
Forceful, huh? And the next day the gang of four is in the White House, evidently forcing the president’s hand.
P.S. Haaretz said that the meeting at the White House with the Jewish leaders was coordinated with speeches to the ADL by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
In the meantime, senior Administration officials sought to reassure the Jewish community about the Administration’s resolve to prevent a nuclear Iran at the ADL’s Centennial Conference in New York on Thursday.
let me be absolutely clear: President Obama is determined to ensure that the Islamic Republic does not acquire a nuclear weapon. Let me repeat: the United States cannot and will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.