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When the Geneva deal over Iran’s nuclear program was announced on Saturday night, reactions came in fast and furious–except from America’s foremost Israel lobby group. The silence didn’t last long, though. On November 25th, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) made its position known.
In a policy memo, AIPAC ran through the deal’s details and expressed considerable skepticism over an interim agreement that contains “implicit acceptance of Iranian enrichment.” But what they didn’t do is press for new and immediate sanctions on Iran over its enrichment program–which would violate the terms of the deal–as the lobbying group did in the weeks before the Geneva accord was reached.
AIPAC is playing the long game on sanctions. They can’t try to scuttle an interim agreement already reached with Iran, as distasteful as they find it. Much like the fight over Chuck Hagel, which AIPAC sat out lest it go head to head with an administration they need to work with, AIPAC is not pushing for immediate sanctions because it would set up a public confrontation with the Obama administration.
Instead, they’re pushing for sanctions that would be passed in the coming months but that would only kick in if Iran violates the interim agreement or if Iran does not agree to an “acceptable deal.” In other words, they’re saving their best for last: the far-reaching agreement that the West and Iran are attempting to forge over the next six months. As an AIPAC source told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas, “new sanctions legislation could help shape the outcome of a final-status deal.” The AIPAC memo hints at what the lobbying group wants in a final deal: denial of enrichment capacity for Iran, which would effectively amount to Iranian capitulation.
The memo criticizes the Geneva accord for allowing Iran to continue to have a nuclear program. AIPAC laments that Iran still retains the capacity to enrich uranium, though the Islamic Republic agreed to not enrich uranium above the 5 percent level, far from the much higher percentage of enriched uranium needed to build a nuclear bomb.
The heart of the memo is what AIPAC wants next. “The U.S. must ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Any final agreement must deny Iran both uranium and plutonium paths to develop nuclear weapons,” the lobbying group states. “Congress should establish clear consequences—by legislating additional sanctions—should Iran violate this agreement or fail to agree to an acceptable final deal.”
In line with AIPAC, new sanctions legislation is being worked on by two of the lobby group’s closest Senate allies: Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). According to the Associated Press’ Bradley Klapper, their efforts would require the Obama administration to certify that Iran is adhering to the Geneva deal every 30 days and that the state hasn’t been involved in terrorism against the U.S. Without that certification, sanctions relief would be lifted and new, more crippling sanctions on investments in Iran would be imposed.
It’s unclear whether President Obama would sign legislation with those provisions. The net effect of even having the legislation on the table, though, is to “shape” the final outcome of a far-reaching deal with Iran.
But if AIPAC has its way on the U.S. denying Iran enrichment capacity, Iran will walk away from the table. What comes next after that is more sanctions–and more escalation of the U.S.-Iran crisis.