Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, on April 25. Photo by Leader.ir/Handout via Reuters

Senate passes bill to impose new sanctions on Iran


The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran.

The measure adding sanctions on Iran due to its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism and human rights breaches passed Thursday in a 98-2 vote. It complies with the Iran nuclear agreement reached in 2015, which put restrictions on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., introduced the bill, which now must pass in the House of Representatives and be signed by President Donald Trump before being enacted. Only Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted against it.

A day earlier, the Senate voted to adopt an amendment to the bill that would expand sanctions against Russia, CBS News reported.

The American Jewish Committee praised the bill’s passage.

“In the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal, AJC has continued to raise concerns about Iran’s threatening behavior with our own and other governments,” Jason Isaacson, the group’s associate executive director for policy, said in a statement.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program, the regime’s support for international terrorism, and its blatant and egregious human rights violations should not be ignored. This bill demonstrates to the Iranian regime that they will not be tolerated.”

Christians United for Israel also lauded the measure, calling it a “good first step.”

“While the Iran nuclear agreement was sold to the American people with the promise that Tehran would moderate its behavior, the Islamic Republic continues to work to consolidate power and export bloodshed,” CUFI said in a statement. “Iran’s support for terror, ballistic missile program and human rights record demand U.S. action.”

Yahya Sinwar, left, and Ali Khamenei (Getty Images via JTA)

I’m rubber, you’re glue: Iran and Hamas impose sanctions targeting US, Israel


Israel’s archenemies apparently couldn’t wait until April Fool’s Day.

On Sunday, geopolitics got all “hafouch,” or turned upside down, as they say in this country. Iran imposed penalties on U.S. firms for working with Israel, and Hamas closed its border with the Jewish state. Stereotypically, of course, it’s the other way around, with the United States and Israel doing the sanctioning of Iran and Hamas.

According to Iran’s IRNA state news agency, the “reciprocal” sanctions on 15 U.S. companies are for alleged human rights violations and cooperating with Israel. IRNA quoted Iran’s foreign ministry as saying the companies had “flagrantly violated human rights” and cooperated with Israel against the Palestinians.

Iran’s seizure of the companies’ assets and ban on contact is largely symbolic since the companies don’t do business with Iran. Among the targeted firms are Re/Max Real Estate, which Tehran accuses of “buying and settling home in settlements located in the occupied territories.”

Emily Landau, a senior researcher at the Institute for International Security Studies, a leading Israeli think tank, said Iran actually has a long history of using the United States’ tools against it.

“This is well-known Iranian tactic of turning the tables on the U.S.,” she wrote in an email to JTA. “Iran has done it many times before over the past years. They take the same messages that the U.S. sends them, about how Iran must do this or the other, and sends them back in reverse.”

Meanwhile, in a rare move, Hamas shut the Erez crossing, which is how people move between Israel and Gaza, due to the assassination of a senior official in its military wing Friday. Hamas officials have blamed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for the killing of one of its top military leaders, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen Friday in Gaza.

“The closure is being implemented as part of the steps taken by Hamas security forces as a result of the crime of the assassination of Mazan Fukha,” the spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in a post on his official Facebook page.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Hamas-run Gaza since 2007, but it grants permits for people to cross through Erez for business or humanitarian reasons. Hamas apparently suspects that collaborators with Israel were involved in the shooting. Israel has not commented.

So far, Hamas has refrained from responding with rockets. Israeli analyst Avi Issacharoff wrote in The Times of Israel Sunday that Hamas may be looking to avoid a new war.

“Yet, for all its rhetoric, Hamas has yet to show any firm evidence of Israeli involvement, a fact that may give the organization the political maneuvering room to avoid a dramatic response that could lead to a full-fledged confrontation,” he wrote.

But he noted the group’s new Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, was known to be dangerous and unpredictable when he was head of Hamas’ military wing, and Israel-Hamas tensions can heat up quickly in the summertime.

U.S.-Iran relations have also gotten hotter President Donald Trump took office in January. Twice in as many months the United States has imposed new sanctions on foreign individuals and companies for allegedly supporting Iran’s weapons program. Last month’s sanctions also targeted Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

In response to a proposal by U.S. lawmakers to go further and brand Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, a senior Iranian lawmaker threatened that his country could do the same to the CIA.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but in international conflict it tends to escalate.

Former UCLA student association president, claiming BDS harassment, leaves UCLA


Has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at UCLA gotten so bad that pro-Israel students don’t feel safe studying there anymore?

Milan Chatterjee, a former UCLA Graduate Students Association (GSA) president and third-year law student, sent a letter on Aug. 24 to university Chancellor Gene Block indicating that he is “leaving UCLA due to [a] hostile and unsafe campus climate.”

In an Aug. 30 phone interview from New York, Chatterjee told the Journal he would begin classes the following day at New York University School of Law.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said of his departure. “I love UCLA, I think it’s a great school and I have lot of friends there. It has just become so hostile and unsafe, I can’t stay there anymore.”

Chatterjee, 27, is Indian-American Hindu and was president of the GSA during the 2015-16 academic year, during which time he made distribution of GSA funds for a Nov. 5 UCLA Diversity Caucus event contingent on its sponsors not associating with the divest-from-Israel movement. 

The move brought protests from BDS supporters, including the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). That group advocated for the removal of Chatterjee from the presidency on the grounds that he violated a University of California policy that requires viewpoint neutrality in the distribution of campus funds. The GSA board of officers censured Chatterjee in April, and a June investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) concluded that Chatterjee’s stipulation violated the policy.

In a statement sent to the Journal by UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez, the university expressed disappointment at Chatterjee’s decision to leave but stood by the findings of the DPO report.

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy,” the Aug. 31 statement says.

With the legal assistance of Peter Weil, managing partner at the Century City law firm Glaser Weil, Chatterjee has filed a complaint with UCLA, pursuant to “Student Grievances Regarding Violations of Anti-Discrimination Laws or University Policies on Discrimination.” In the Aug. 10 complaint, he charges that the university discriminated against him “because I refused to support an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist activity, organization and position while serving as President of the UCLA Graduate Student Association.” The grievance was addressed to Dianne Tanjuaquio, the hearing coordinator and student affairs officer in the UCLA office of the dean of students.

Chatterjee’s complaint asks for immediate withdrawal of the DPO report, acknowledgment by DPO that he acted in good faith and a promise that he won’t be subject to any disciplinary action. For his final year of law school, Chatterjee will study at NYU under the status of a “visiting student” but still earn his degree from UCLA, he said. 

In UCLA’s Aug. 31 statement, the university reiterated its support for Israel while also defending the right of students to express positions critical of Israel: “Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was troubled by events leading to Chatterjee’s decision to depart UCLA.

“We have tremendous respect for the institution, and it’s troubling that the past president of the GSA felt like he had to leave the university because of what he felt was a hostile, unsafe campus created in part because of these outspoken anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said in a phone interview. “Regardless of his views on the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, where there are deep, difficult issues, this student’s decision to leave UCLA because of these attacks is incredibly problematic.”

The Chatterjee affair is only the latest iteration of the BDS movement against Israel causing problems at UCLA, according to Josh Saidoff, a UCLA graduate student who has supported Chatterjee in the pages of the Daily Bruin, the UCLA campus newspaper, and is the son of pro-Israel philanthropist Naty Saidoff.

“What we’ve seen at UCLA is an attempt by BDS activists to use legal intimidation and other forms of social stigmatization to silence those who oppose BDS, and you only need to look back as far as what happened to Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh to see that they’ve used the judicial process within student government to try to silence and marginalize and exclude those people who do not advocate on behalf of BDS,” the 36-year-old grad student said in a phone interview, referring to two non-Jewish students who were the focus of opposition campaigns by SJP after accepting trips to Israel from pro-Israel organizations. “So I was surprised that the university allowed itself to become complicit in this process because I think it’s part of a very clear pattern of intimidation used by the BDS activists on our campus.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said “major [UCLA] donors” have called him and wanted more information about what happened with Chatterjee in the wake of his departure, but he said that no donors he knows have threatened to pull their gifts.

“I think most UCLA donors love UCLA, have UCLA’s best interest at heart and are not trying to threaten UCLA. They’re trying to help UCLA, trying to be involved in conversations with the university, want to be in conversation with students and professionals to understand what the right steps are,” Lerner said in a phone interview.

Those troubled by Chatterjee’s departure include David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial advisor, and his wife, Lynn, who have more than 20 pieces of their art collection on loan to the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Pollock told the Journal that he has contacted UCLA Anderson School Dean Judy Olian about the possibility of taking the artwork back in light of what has occurred with Chatterjee. 

“I was perfectly happy to have it there until this thing got me going,” Pollock said.

In a Sept. 5 statement, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs joined many major Jewish organizations in applauding Chatterjee for standing by his principles. “We commend Mr. Chatterjee for standing up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation, and hope that the attacks he has faced from anti-Israel extremists are taken as a testament to his principles, rather than a stain on his reputation,” the statement says.

Chatterjee’s stipulation was expressed in an Oct. 16 email to Manpreet Dhillon Brar, a UCLA graduate student and diversity caucus representative who did not respond to the Journal’s interview requests. Chatterjee said in the email that the caucus’ event must have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.” He said that he later clarified that the caucus could not be affiliated with any position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Thus, the stipulation was viewpoint neutral, he said.

Whatever the case, the caucus accepted the stipulation — as well as the $2,000 grant from the GSA. The Nov. 5 town hall organized by the caucus went off without any incident.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the school of law at UC Irvine, said in a Feb. 8 letter that stipulating that the caucus not associate with either side of the issue does not violate viewpoint neutrality. “I think it is clearly constitutional for the GSA to choose not to fund anything on this issue,” he said, “so long as it remains viewpoint neutral.” 

Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and the author of a July 19 blog post on the UCLA website titled “Viewpoint Neutrality,” said there are more sides to the story and that supporters of divestment felt threatened by the law student’s actions.

“People on the other side of the political issue, they also feel harassed, threatened and retaliated [against],” Kang said in a phone interview. 

Kang’s statements were echoed by Rahim Kurwa, 29, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA sociology department and a member of UCLA’s chapter of SJP, which has argued that Chatterjee’s actions amounted to stifling free speech on campus. 

SJP, which during the process received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, posted the DPO report, which was confidential and omitted names, on its website. The Daily Bruin also linked to the report. Kang dismissed concerns expressed by some major Jewish organizations that the publication of the report violated Chatterjee’s privacy.

“This is obviously a matter of great public concern about a student-elected official using mandatory student fees, so it is a public record we had to release,” he said.

Despite how the whole affair may make things look to outsiders, Kurwa said in an email that pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students get along better on campus than people think they do.

“For the most part, the day-to-day interactions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups on campus is much less dramatic and tense than it is portrayed by off-campus actors,” he said.

Still, Saidoff, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, said, “I can tell you that Milan has very good reason to not feel welcome here because he was targeted and scapegoated, because he was made into an object of derision and he has reason to not feel comfortable here.”

But, he added, “I feel OK here at UCLA.”

 

Full statement sent to the Journal by UCLA on Aug. 31:

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy.

Throughout the entire process, university officials took great care to respect Chatterjee’s rights, to get to the bottom of the issue fairly and to encourage all sides to de-escalate the heated rhetoric surrounding the dispute between Chatterjee and his fellow students.

The dispute centered on allegations made by student groups that as the then president of the Graduate Student Association, Chatterjee had improperly made funding for a campus event contingent on the sponsoring organization having no connections to groups that supported divestment from Israel — in violation of university policy that funding of student groups and activities must be “viewpoint neutral.”

Conducted by the Discrimination Prevention Office, the university’s investigation included interviews as well as careful reviews of meeting minutes and related documents, email correspondence and applicable university regulations. All parties were given the opportunity to provide evidence and no evidence offered by the parties was excluded.

The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether the university’s policy on viewpoint neutrality had been violated. It did not examine or make a determination on whether Chatterjee, the former president of the Graduate Student Association, purposefully or knowingly violated policies.

As reflected in the Principles Against Intolerance recently adopted by the UC Board of Regents, UCLA is firmly committed to freedom of expression, association and debate for all regardless of viewpoint, ethnic background or religious affiliation. Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

___________________________

UPDATE Aug. 31, 2016, 4:37 p.m.: This story has been updated to add UCLA's response and statement.

BDS bill headed to California Senate floor next week


As early as late next week, the California Senate could vote on a bill signaling the California legislature’s disapproval of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, according to Guy Strahl, the legislative director for Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, who wrote the bill.

A 6-0 vote on Aug. 11 by the seven-member Senate’s Appropriations Committee cleared the way for the bill to go to the floor. Sen. Jim Beall was absent for the vote.

Though Strahl said Bloom is still looking for a Senate floor manager, the legislator intends to put the measure before the upper chamber as soon as possible. Because of procedural time limits, Aug. 18 is the first day it could see a vote, he said.

The bill mandates that companies contracting with the state certify that any policy they might have boycotting a nation recognized by the U.S., including but not limited to Israel, does not violate state and federal civil rights law.

Prior to the Aug. 11 vote, the committee determined the bill would cost upwards of $370,000 to implement in its first year on the books, a price tag that sent it to the so-called “suspense file,” a waiting list of bills deemed expensive enough to merit further review. Since that determination, an amendment made at Bloom’s request significantly reduced the projected cost of the measure, Strahl said.

In its previous form, the bill forwarded complaints about boycott policies directly to the attorney general. Bloom’s amendment drops that mandatory review and allows civil rights complaints to be vetted through relevant state agencies, such as the Department of General Services (DGS), which overseas contractors.

The measure has faced a long and winding road through various committees in both houses of the legislature. Consideration on the Senate floor would be among the final steps to passage. If the Senate approves the bill, it will head back to the Assembly, where it has already passed once, to be considered again.

Fight BDS with a pro-Palestinian narrative


After attending two anti-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) conferences in New York City over two days last week – one organized by Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and one by the Conference of Presidents – I have some clarity about how to combat this demon.

Yes, demon. I know there’s a “cool crowd” in the Jewish community that underplays the BDS threat and argues that by fighting it so loudly and directly, we give it too much attention. That crowd often reminds us that, so far, the BDS movement has failed to inflict any real economic damage on Israel, and that, if anything, investment in Israel is booming. 

This economic news may be comforting, but I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a big mistake to view BDS strictly by the numbers. The purpose of the movement goes far beyond hurting Israel's economy – its core mission is to poison Israel’s image.

“It is working far better and spreading into the mainstream much faster than we had anticipated,” BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti said in an interview last week with Bloomberg. 

What is spreading into the mainstream is an orchestrated propaganda campaign that brands Israel as an anti-peace, all-powerful colonialist bully oppressing the helpless Palestinians.

It is the call to boycott that damages Israel, whether or not any actual boycott takes place. That’s why the boycott strategy is a brilliant PR maneuver. It reinforces the malignant narrative that Israel is the evil bully worthy of being boycotted.

If you're pro-Israel and anti-BDS, how do you combat such a strong narrative?

There’s only one way: You must reframe the enemy. Who hurts the Palestinians most? It is their corrupt leaders who glorify terrorism, who teach their people to hate Jews, who have rejected every offer of a Palestinian state and who pilfer humanitarian aid for their fancy villas, private jets and Swiss bank accounts.

Listen to Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Ayyad, who knows all about Palestinian corruption. In an interview last week with Arutz Sheva, an Israeli media network, Ayyad noted that, since the Palestinian Authority (PA) was created in 1994, Arabs living under the organization “only hear about corruption from it.”

In its entire existence, Ayyad asserted, the PA “hasn’t built a single kindergarten” for its people.

Ayyad is simply confirming what many of us have long figured out: The corrupt PA, just like its BDS mouthpiece, is out to crush Israel rather than assist the Palestinian people. 

This is the Achilles heel of the BDS movement: It has done absolutely nothing to promote peace or help improve Palestinian lives.

Anti-BDS activists must take advantage of this BDS hypocrisy to expose the movement as a fraud. Even more, they should create a counter movement to do precisely what BDS has failed to do – help Palestinians. 

We can call the movement, “Boycott Hate-Embrace Peace.” 

Among other things, this movement should hold Palestinian leaders accountable to their people.

For example, it could lobby the U.S. Congress to freeze aid to the PA until it can verify that the funds are going directly to the people. Call it the “PA Transparency Bill.” In addition, a special budget would be allocated to fund initiatives that promote normalization and peaceful co-existence.

The movement should enlist Palestinians like Bassem Ayyad to appear at U.S. college campuses to testify against the PA’s corrupt leaders and to promote the “Boycott Hate- Embrace Peace” movement. These testimonials should run as ads in college papers and in mainstream and social media to disseminate how the PA and BDS have abandoned the Palestinians.

In the U.S., one prominent fighter against BDS already is none other than presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who wrote last year in a letter to Jewish leaders:

“BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. This is not the path to peace. From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms, we need to engage all people of good faith… in explaining why the BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Exposing BDS as harmful to Palestinians is the best way to ambush the movement and put it on the defensive. And if we get lucky, it may even be good for peace.

U.S. officials tout China cooperation on new North Korea sanctions


U.S. State Department officials expressed optimism on Thursday that new sanctions imposed on North Korea may be more effective than earlier attempts to curtain Pyongyang's nuclear program, pointing to China's apparent willingness to support them.

Two weeks before a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Thomas Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told a Senate hearing there were signs of a shift in China, North Korea's sole major ally, toward regarding its nuclear program as a threat.

“They have made clear they are ready to work with us on detailed implementation and consultation on a range of issues,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to harsh new sanctions on North Korea to starve it of money for its nuclear weapons programs this month. President Barack Obama imposed sweeping new U.S. sanctions on Wednesday.

The hearing was contentious. Senators accused Countryman and Rose Gottemoeller, Undersecretary for Arms Control, of glossing over the global nuclear security threat, particularly in Asia, and underplaying the significance of the U.S. rift with Russia.

Russia is not attending the March 31-April 1 summit.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, the committee's chairman, said their testimony lacked “urgency and openness.”

“People are not honoring treaties. Asia is in going in a very different direction than we had hoped, and yet, y'all are here telling us how, 'Gosh, we've done a wonderful job,'” Corker said.

Gottemoeller was nominated this month to be NATO deputy secretary-general, the number two post at the defense alliance. Although she does not face Senate confirmation, Corker said many lawmakers see her as too soft on Moscow, particularly over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) treaty.

Washington has accused Russia of violating the treaty, which Russia denies.

“People are very concerned that you really have not been the kind of person who has pushed back heavily against Russia and has been more of an apologist,” Corker said.

Gottemoeller said the administration looked for progress this year.

“I see some progress in Russia's willingness at the highest level to recommit to the treaty now and we are looking forward to moving expeditiously in 2016 to try to make some progress on this difficult matter.”

She also defended her record, saying she had been pragmatic during years dealing with Moscow. “I do feel that pragmatic problem solving in the diplomatic realm is important,” she said.

Cartoon: Use it nicely


Democratic lawmakers call for immediate sanctions on Iran


Democratic lawmakers – opponents and supporters of the Iran nuclear deal – on Wednesday called on the Obama Administration to impose punitive sanctions on Iran without delay.

In a letter sent to President Barack Obama, House Representatives Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Albio Sires, Gerry Connolly, Susan Davis and Jerry Nadler called for immediate punitive sanctions in response to Iran’s recent violations of UN Security Council resolutions law by conducting two ballistic missile tests.

“Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region and continued support for terrorism represent an unacceptable threat to our closest allies as well as our own national security,” the Democrats write in the letter. “As the international community prepares for implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran must understand that violating international laws, treaties, and agreements will have serious consequences. We call on the Administration to immediately announce new, U.S. sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program to ensure Iran is held accountable for its actions.”

During the congressional review of the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama promised Democratic lawmakers he would respond forcefully to Iranian malfeasance and would swiftly impose sanctions for non-nuclear issues outside of the JCPOA—including ballistic missile activity. In a letter to Rep. Nadler, before getting him on board in support of the deal, President Obama wrote, “I made sure that the United States reserved its right to maintain and enforce existing sanctions and even to deploy new sanctions to address those continuing concerns, which we fully intend to do when circumstances warrant.”

Last week, the administration notified Congress that it intended to impose sanctions on nearly a dozen companies and individuals for providing support to Iran’s ballistic missile program. But the White House quickly walked back the announcement. On Saturday, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said, “We just have additional work that we need to do as the U.S. government before we would announce additional designations.”

Read the full text of the letter below:

January 6, 2016

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:

We write to express our serious concern with Iran’s recent violation of international law by test-firing medium-range ballistic missiles in October and November 2015.

As you know, the United Nations (UN) Security Panel of Experts concluded that the October test was a blatant violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929. While the UN Panel has yet to characterize Iran’s second medium range ballistic missile test in November as a violation, both exercises foster insecurity in surrounding countries about Iran’s military capabilities and intent.

Additionally, an Iranian rocket—fired by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps during live-fire exercises—came within just 1,500 feet last week of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman that was operating in the Strait of Hormuz.

Such aggressive and destabilizing behavior is deeply troubling, particularly preceding implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and demands a U.S. response. While not all of us share the same opinion on the JCPOA, we are united in our desire to ensure it is vigilantly enforced and to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

For this reason, the United States and our allies must take immediate, punitive action and send a clear message to Iran that violating international laws, treaties, and agreements will have serious consequences. We understand the Administration is preparing sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and we urge you to announce such sanctions without further delay.

Inaction from the United States would send the misguided message that, in the wake of the JCPOA, the international community has lost the willingness to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its support for terrorism and other offensive actions throughout the region—including in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip. This behavior—including these ballistic missile tests—poses a direct threat to American national security interests and those of our allies.

As Members of Congress committed to regional and international security and stability, we stand ready to assist you in holding Iran accountable for its actions. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, and we look forward to your response.

U.S. says weighs sanctions against Iran for ballistic missile test


The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it was in discussions with other U.S. agencies on imposing sanctions against Iran for an Oct. 10 ballistic missile tests by Tehran that violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“We are fully prepared to use sanctions with respect to this most recent ballistic missile test (and) are still working through some technical issues there,” spokesman John Kirby said.

Responding to news reports that the State Department stopped sanctions from being imposed because Iran objected, Kirby said: “There continues to be a robust inter-agency discussion about moving forward on sanctions.”

He added: “We don't take sanctions advice or guidance from Iran or any other country.”

Democratic senators to Kerry: respond to Iranian missile test


This post originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

A group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in which they expressed ‘profound’ concern about the Iranian ballistic missile test last Sunday. 

The group includes Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Nine out of the eleven Democratic senators listed as signatories supported the Iran nuclear deal. 

“We are writing to express our profound concern about Iran’s October 11 ballistic missile test…We urge you to consider unilateral and multilateral responses to this ballistic missile test. We believe calibrated pressure on Iran is appropriate due to its clear non-compliance with UNSCR 1929 and to deter future violations,” the Senators wrote in the letter. 

The Senators stated that the launch so close to the date of the implementation of the nuclear deal “is an attempt to test the world’s will to respond to Iranian violations of its international commitments.”

Read a full text of the letter below: 

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We are writing to express our profound concern about Iran’s October 11 ballistic missile test. 

United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power clearly stated that Iran’s test was a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 which specifically states that “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.” 

We are concerned about the military significance of this test, which is part of a long-term Iranian program that seeks to improve the range and capabilities of its ballistic missiles. We are also convinced that the launch is an attempt to test the world’s will to respond to Iranian violations of its international commitments.

We strongly believe that the ability of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to prevent Iran from fulfilling its nuclear ambitions must be fortified by a zero-tolerance policy to respond to violations of the agreement and of applicable UN resolutions – and a unified plan of action between the United States and our European allies about what specific responses should be deployed to respond to incremental violations. 

There must be no ambiguity in our willingness to enforce Iran’s obligations under UN resolutions and the JCPOA.

We urge you to consider unilateral and multilateral responses to this ballistic missile test. We believe calibrated pressure on Iran is appropriate due to its clear non-compliance with UNSCR 1929 and to deter future violations.

Iran deal closer to reality as U.S. prepares sanctions waivers


The United States approved conditional sanctions waivers for Iran on Sunday, though it cautioned they would not take effect until Tehran has curbed its nuclear program as required under a historic nuclear deal reached in Vienna on July 14.

“Today marks an important milestone toward preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful going forward,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a White House statement.

In a memo, he directed the secretaries of state, treasury, commerce and energy “to take all necessary steps to give effect to the U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions described in (the Iran deal).”

Several senior U.S. officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said actual sanctions relief for Iran was at least two months away.

Sunday was “adoption day” for the deal, which came 90 days after the U.N. Security Council endorsed the agreement reached by Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China under which most sanctions on Iran would be lifted in exchange for limits on Tehran's nuclear activities.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran would now have to act to restrain its nuclear program.

“These waivers will not take effect until Implementation Day, after Iran has completed all necessary nuclear steps, as verified by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency),” he said in a statement. “If fully implemented, (the deal) will bring unprecedented insight and accountability to Iran's nuclear program forever.”

In Brussels, the European Union on Sunday published legal acts that open the way for the bloc to lift sanctions if Tehran meets the conditions tied to the landmark nuclear agreement.

Iran told the IAEA on Sunday it would fulfill a commitment under the deal to implement the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, allowing U.N. nuclear inspectors more intrusive access to Iranian facilities.

“IMPLEMENTATION DAY”

Iran will take that step on “implementation day”, the IAEA said in a statement. Under the deal, that is when the agency is due to have verified that Tehran has implemented restrictions on its nuclear activities and sanctions should be lifted.

Kerry said Tom Shannon, the appointee for Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and the U.S. point-man on Iran, Stephen Mull, would join senior officials from the six powers, Iran and the European Union in Vienna this week to discuss implementation of the deal.

In addition to Washington's conditional orders to suspend U.S. nuclear-related sanctions, U.S. officials said the United States, China and Iran were re-emphasizing their commitment to the redesign and reconstruction of the Arak research reactor so that it does not produce plutonium.

The fate of the Arak reactor was one of the toughest sticking points in the nearly two years of negotiations that led to the July agreement.

Other steps Iran must take include reducing the number of uranium-enrichment centrifuges it has in operation, cutting its enriched uranium stocks and answering U.N. questions about past activities that the West suspects were linked to work on nuclear weapons.

Kerry noted that the IAEA had already said Iran had met its obligation to provide answers and access to the agency.

However, one U.S. official suggested on Saturday that the quality of answers Iran provides to the IAEA and the agency's assessment are not relevant when it comes to deciding on pressing forward with sanctions relief.

“That final assessment, which the IAEA is aiming to complete by December 15th, is not a prerequisite for implementation day,” he said.

SOME SANCTIONS TO REMAIN

Tehran denies allegations from Western powers and their allies that its nuclear program was aimed at developing the capability to produce atomic weapons.

Unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran not tied to its atomic program, such as those related to human rights, will remain even after the nuclear deal is implemented.

The U.S. officials were asked about Iran's decision to test a ballistic missile a week ago in violation of a U.N. ban that will remain in effect for almost a decade. The United States has said the missile was capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

The officials reiterated that the launch was not a violation of the nuclear deal.

“This is not, unfortunately, something new,” a U.S. official said, adding that the missile test should not be seen as an indicator of Iran's willingness to comply with the nuclear deal.

“There is a long pattern of Iran ignoring U.N. Security Council resolutions on ballistic missiles,” the official said.

Washington has said it will seek Security Council action against Iran over the missile test. Once the deal is implemented, Iran will still be “called upon” to refrain from undertaking any work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for a period of up to eight years, according to a Security Council resolution adopted in July.

Swiss envoy says: invest in Iran, Middle East’s ‘pole of stability’


Switzerland's ambassador on Thursday called Iran a “pole of stability” in the Middle East and urged companies to make the most of a lucrative market about to re-open after years of crippling sanctions.

Ambassador Giulio Haas was addressing some 500 Swiss business people as Europeans race back to Iran, whose markets and oil will be much easier to tap once sanctions are lifted, under a global deal struck last month.

“Iran seems still for a lot of people to be bearded, elderly gentlemen with turbans. You see them, but you see not a lot of them, especially when you're dealing with business,” Haas said.

Iran's adversaries in the Middle East, particulaly Israel and Saudi Arabia, oppose the deal Tehran struck with world powers, limiting its nuclear work in return for sanctions relief.

In the United States where Iran has long been seen as a regional menace, the U.S. Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on the deal backed by President Barack Obama but opposed by many Republicans.

Haas said his nearly two years in Tehran had convinced him Western perceptions of Iran as the world's most-aggressive nation were about to change.

“Iran at the moment is most probably the pole of stability in a very, very unsafe region,” he told the conference.

Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran on Sunday , catching up with rival European powers that have rushed to tell Iran their companies are ready to restart business. France's foreign minister visited Tehran just two weeks after the nuclear deal was agreed on July 14.

Iran's financial system should escape cripping restrictions next year, leaving foreign companies contemplating 80 million consumers, $35 trillion worth of petroleum reserves and deep infrastructure needs.

Companies including engineering group ABB Ltd bank UBS and agriculture equipment maker Bucher Industries AG attended the event in a Zurich hotel hosted by a Swiss export-promotion group.

“BE BRAVE”

Swiss exports to Iran have fallen more than half to less than 400 million Swiss francs ($415 million)since 2008 as tightened U.N. and EU sanctions forced many companies to cut ties with the country.

“It's very important for us that the stream of money in Iran reopens,” said Christian Wuerzer, managing director at insurer SwissCare, whose products cover expatriates and diplomats.

Marzban Mortaz, director of a Tehran-based juice and milk packager, said access to Swiss financiers is essential if the country's economy is to double or triple post sanctions.

“With that size of economy, everyone has expansion plans,” he told Reuters. “Companies in Iran are cash-strapped.”

Experts cautioned that Iran remains a difficult market, telling the conference that bureacracy, nepotism and corruption were common, as were the threat from product piracy and legal unpredictability.

“The corruption is still at unbelievable rates,” said Sharif Nezam-Mafi, chairman of the Iran-Switzerland Chamber of Commerce and Eurasia region director of Swiss mill-maker Buehler AG.

Nevertheless, speakers described Iran as a “virgin market” of sophisticated consumers ready for business with the West.

“Be brave,” urged Ali Amiri of ACL Asset Management, an Iran-focused investment firm. “You've been to wilder places: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, South Africa, Nigeria. If you can bear those places, Iran is a walk in the park.”

$1 = 0.9622 Swiss francs

Cartoon: The wall of sanctions


The unending cost of killing the Iran deal


In his 2006 book, “The Accidental Empire,” Gershom Gorenberg writes of Israel’s breathtakingly subtle, yet relentlessly evolving occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan.  He points out that a then young Amoz Oz warned of the “moral destruction” and corruption that comes to the occupier of a long occupation.  But he also quotes Moshe Dayan, speaking to the Palestinian Poetess Fadwa Tuquan of Nablus:  “The situation today,” Dayan says, “resembles the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the girl he kidnaps against her will…You Palestinians, as a nation, don’t want us today, but we’ll change your attitude by forcing our presence on you.”  He also chronicles French philosopher Raymond Aron asking then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol if he was worried about rebellion in the West Bank, “No,” Eshkol replied, “This isn’t Algeria.  We can strangle terror in the occupied territories.” 

Really?  

The robust battle in the Jewish community over the negotiated Nuclear Deal with Iran has focused almost entirely on how good or bad it will be for Israel and the likelihood of Iran going nuclear at the Deal’s end, spiced, unfortunately by inflammatory talk of the U.S. underwriting Iran’s acquisition of the bomb and ushering Israelis to the doorways of crematoriums. The anti-Deal side also focuses on Iran’s profile as both a regional and international “bad actor,” and sponsor of terrorism.  Importantly, the latter is not denied by the pro-Deal side, but unlike the anti-Deal side, the pro-Deal people are the side thinking about how to mitigate that activity. 

The anti-Deal side states the Deal could be better.  Senator Schumer says he’s against the Deal and that we should go back and negotiate a better one.  But if the Deal included, let’s say, only half of Iran’s frozen $100 billion in assets to be released let’s say, in the first five years, and a cap on Iran’s annual oil sales, and reduction of the poorer quality centrifuges from 6,000 to 1,000, we all know that Israel and their backers here in the U.S. would never sign off on it.  True, better it would be, but still not good enough, because it would not be perfect.  Only perfect will do for the anti-Deal side, and perfect is the well-known enemy of the good, and in this case, the unachievable.  Perfect cannot be achieved here.  And if good goes down here in obeisance to the perfect, the result will be an increase in bad actor activity.  You can take that to the bank. 

Israeli security exports are already on the record as saying that rather than new negotiations convening, Russia and China will move to subvert further sanctions.  Already, we read that Quds Force General and master terrorist Qassem Suleimani has been to Moscow.  Russia’s sinking economy needs foreign sales.  China is rapaciously seeking influence worldwide.  The worst of Iran’s international adventurism has been muted during negotiations.  But when the deal falls apart, what really then?  Curiously it is Israel itself that has the most close-up and historically comprehensive view of what is likely to happen.  The precursor test case for failed negotiations is the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territories and what that has wrought.   

When Israel emerged victorious from the ’67 War, it moved inexorably  – albeit under a cloud of indecision and international ambiguity – to settle and occupy the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.  It’s stated position is that it would have returned those areas for a peace treaty, and perhaps it would have.  But that treaty, that perfect Deal, never happened, and those areas – unlike Sinai which was returned to Egypt, under a treaty that was perhaps less than a perfect but has ensured a lasting peace – well, those areas fifty years down the road have evolved into a seething miasma of intifada, terrorist activity, repeated war, and constant lone wolf mayhem, not to mention an international public relations nightmare, isolating Israel ever further.   As if that weren’t enough, the situation has bred an armed Jewish terrorism on the Right, the depth and scope of which can no longer be brushed under the rug – particularly after the recent killings.  In short, an attempt to keep a people “bottled up” has instead metastasized into an explosion of lethal chaos that cannot be strangled no matter how great the effort. 

Now let’s acknowledge that Iran is no sleepy agrarian and small-town West Bank and isolated Golan of back in the day.  No, it is an oil-rich, country of 80 million people with an army, an air force, a navy, and a nascent nuclear program and sophisticated operatives throughout the Middle East, Africa, South America, and probably everywhere else.   Iran has been under the stricture of international sanctions of one sort or another since 1979.  Before that we gave them the brutality of the Shah and his CIA-trained Savak.  They made a UN-sanctioned deal with the six “great powers” that many in Israel argue is a good deal, and if we kill it, if we try to “bottle up” and uni- or multi-laterally continue to try and “force our presence” on Iran; worse, if we bomb their nuclear facilities, what Gaza and the Occupied Territories have become, what Iran has shown itself capable of in Beirut, Buenos Aires, and Baghdad will quite likely become the world-wide future for not just Jews, but Americans and American interest everywhere. And it could (and probably will) go on for generations. 

This is what no one will talk about, particularly the war hawks beating their drums.  Iran is not Iraq.  There will be consequences for everyone, not just the men and women who go to fight and their particular families, which means, among other things, be prepared once again for the newly energized dialectic about the “Jewish Lobby,” and how it drives U.S. foreign policy.  Families that lose loved ones to a war or terror that didn’t need to happen for the perceived sake of that lobby, what will their attitude be toward their Jewish friends and neighbors, toward Jews in general, and toward Israel in particular?   

Now if you ask Benjamin Netanyahu, he will say he doesn’t care.  He’ll say this is a price that needs to be paid to save the state of Israel, despite dozens of Israeli security officials’ disagreement.  And he will tell you – in messianic, not practical context, because that’s the only way it makes sense – that the existence of the state of Israel is more important than how the world feels about Jews (and of course the Evangelical community agrees).  Will civilians rise up against Jewish targets, the way they did against Arab targets after 9/11?  Who knows?  One thing thought is certain.  An escalation of the policies of aggression and repression, and the hatred it engenders, will only and always redoubt to the detriment of Jews and Israel.  On the other hand, Israel can exist and engender good will as well if it will prove itself amenable to the reasoned argument of diplomacy and not subvert its future to apocalyptic speculation.

Mitch Paradise is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles.

Will the nuclear deal impact California’s sanctions against Iran? It appears not


As Congress debates whether to approve the Obama administration’s agreement to lift many of the United States’ sanctions against Iran in return for a temporary curb on its nuclear program, one particular paragraph in the 159-page deal has activists and politicians in California wondering how it could impact sanctions here in California — sanctions that may be valued in the billions of dollars.

The answer (for now): probably not at all.

Still, the paragraph in question, which is on Page 15 of the nuclear agreement, stipulates that the federal government “will take appropriate steps, taking into account all available authorities” to “actively encourage officials at the state or local level to take into account the changes in the U.S. policy reflected in the lifting of sanctions under this [agreement] and to refrain from actions inconsistent with this change in policy.”

In California, the widest reaching of those sanctions became law in 2007, when Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) authored Assembly Bill 221, which passed 76-0 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the state Senate. The bill prohibits California’s two largest pension funds, the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), from holding investments in any company that does at least $20 million in business with Iran’s petroleum or natural gas industries. The two funds have portfolios worth nearly $500 billion combined. CalPERS is the nation’s largest public retirement fund and CalSTRS is the largest teachers’ retirement fund in the country.

Israel’s business community braces for sanctions


Just one week before the Israeli election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat sent an angry letter to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. 

Erekat was furious that Paris-based Société Anonyme Française d’Etude de Gestion et d’Entreprises (SAFEGE), an engineering subsidiary of Suez Enviorment, had been hired by the Jerusalem Municipality to begin plans for an aerial tramway linking the Emek Refaim train station to the Dung Gate, then eastward to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.

“This project will help strengthen the annexation of East Jerusalem, facilitate travel to the settlements and lead to the illegal expropriation of private property, some of which belongs to the Waqf and Christian churches,” Erekat wrote in the letter leaked to the Paris daily Le Figaro. 

Within days, French officials summoned SAFEGE’s top directors to the Quai d’Orsay, and the company pulled out of the project. 

Israeli entrepreneurs say the scuttled gondola project reflects a deteriorating relationship with Europe, and some are increasingly anxious over potential effects for commerce should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition firmly reject two-state diplomatic efforts.

“What we are seeing is the stigma of sanctions imposed by states are a much more serious threat to the Israeli economy than BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions],”said Orni Petruschka, a partner at renewable energy firm Precede Technologies. 

“Once there is a U.N. resolution on a Palestinian state, and in the likely event that Israel does not move forward to such an endgame, then there might be sanctions by states who do not subscribe to the whole BDS agenda, which includes the return of the refugees,” said Petruschka, who is best known in Israel as an entrepreneur who sold his company Chromatis Networks to Lucent in 2000 for a record-breaking $4.75 billion.

“BDS can be contained because of the relatively extreme agenda. But I do see a U.N. resolution leading slowly to a process that will include economic measures against us,” Petruschka said.

France is currently circulating a draft of a Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood to be formally introduced within the next few months.

“Europe is becoming more politicized, and we do see some players reluctant to invest in Israel,” said Edouard Cukierman, managing partner of the French-Israeli private equity firm Catalyst Investments, and chairman of Cukierman & Co. Investment House.

Cukierman, 50, is also a member of the Breaking the Impasse group, which includes more than 300 Israeli business leaders advocating a two-state solution. 

“We saw some companies freeze or reconsider their investments in Israel in the wake of the war last summer in Gaza,” said Cukierman whose father, Rodger, serves as president of the Council of French Jewish Institutions.

“The reluctance to invest is not just because of Israel — it’s also due to the European economy with its own issues and concerns as reflected as the election results in France,” Cukierman observed, noting the “worrisome” rise of the National Front in France.

Gadi Baltiansky, Israeli director general of the two-state advocacy group Geneva Initiative, thinks too many in Israel’s business community have muted their concerns about the economic consequences of the diplomatic stalemate. 

“In general terms, the business community is more pragmatic and moderate and supportive of a peace deal and they believe that the state is more important than the land,” Baltiansky said.

“You can have success even if we have less land; they are interested in stability here and a climate favorable for foreign investment, trade and tourism.”

“What they have done about it? Between very little and zero,” Baltiansky said.

“Of course, from the perspective of the business community, you have to admit that the Israeli economy is not doing that badly, especially compared to some in Europe. So there isn’t this strong motivation that says, ‘Wow, we are in a catastrophe.’ ”

Cukierman illustrates Baltiansky’s point by relaying that his firm has more than made up for declining European investment by partnering with Chinese companies and venture-capital funds eager to get in on Israel’s technology boom.

The investment house holds an annual investors conference in Tel Aviv that has attracted increasing numbers of Chinese participants, and Cukierman has scored $75 million in Chinese investment.

“When we had our conference a couple of years back, we had Mr. Ronnie Chan, one of the largest players in real estate in China. He came and said, ‘Why are you spending so much time working on a relationship with Europe?’ And that is when we really adjusted some of our focus,” Cukierman said.

Although Baltiansky credits Breaking the Impasse for demonstrating mainstream business support for the two-state concept, there’s no mistaking his frustration with the organization’s quiet approach, avoiding confrontation with the Netanyahu government over the lack of diplomatic progress. 

“After the Bar Ilan speech [the prime minister’s 2009 acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state], Breaking the Impasse came out with a billboard campaign costing hundreds of thousands of shekels praising Netanyahu saying, “We support you on the road to peace.” But when it stalled, there was no campaign telling him to get back on track,” Baltiansky said.

Petruschka organized Blue White Future, an activist lobbying group with a more conterversial approach than Breaking the Impasse. 

Blue White Future has called on the Israeli government to draw up plans for the relocation of settlers, and on the White House to respond to the negotiations deadlock by publicly releasing American parameters for a two-state deal.

“People are afraid to openly take a stand because they put the well-being of their business first, and most business leaders have some sort of cooperation with government,” Petruschka said.

“To my mind, this is a mistake, because in the long term, the success of their business depends more on cooperation of the entire international community, and as those partnerships erode, the well-being of their business will also suffer.”

Competing views of Iran deal highlight challenges ahead


Now that the outline for an Iran nuclear agreement has been released — or, more precisely, two outlines, one by Iran, the other by the Obama administration — major gaps have emerged that will need to be resolved ahead of a June 30 deadline for a final deal, including when sanctions on Iran are lifted.

President Barack Obama and Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, issued conflicting statements in the past week on the sanctions issue, with Obama suggesting sanctions would be relaxed only once Iran begins to implement its obligations and Khamenei demanding that all sanctions be suspended upon signing an agreement. Khamenei also vowed that military sites would not be open to nuclear inspectors, which clashes with the American text, which says inspectors have the right to visit suspicious sites “anywhere in the country.”

The next round of talks is likely to be held within three weeks in New York City, on the sidelines of a meeting of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, and both Obama and Khamenei have said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

In the coming weeks, both sides will endeavor to sell the deal to its various constituencies: Iran to its domestic hardliners, and the Obama administration to Congress, Jewish groups and skeptical allies, Israel chief among them.

What the Obama administration wants to see

In its outline of a framework accord reached earlier this month in Switzerland, and in subsequent statementsand interviews, the Obama administration has focused preeminently on the strict limits it is seeking on Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium.

These include limiting Iran’s advanced centrifuges to scientific research and reducing the number of active first-generation centrifuges, from 19,000 to 5,060, for 10 years. Enrichment would be limited to 3.67 percent, the level required for medical research and well short of weaponization levels. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium would be limited to 300 kilograms for 15 years. The deal would also provide for a regimen of intrusive inspections at all Iranian facilities.

“You have assurances that their stockpile of highly enriched uranium remains in a place where they cannot create a nuclear weapon,” Obama told National Public Radio last week.

According to the administration’s outline, sanctions relief is conditioned on Iran abiding by its commitments. The sanctions architecture will remain in place so they can be quickly reimposed if Iran defaults.

Additionally, Obama administration officials have emphasized that Iran’s breakout time will be extended from the current two to three months to a year, although how this will be quantified is not yet clear.

What Iran wants to see

In contrast with the phased relief outlined in the U.S. document, a “fact sheet” published by the Iranian Foreign Ministry posits an immediate lifting of sanctions after a deal is reached. On Thursday, in a speech broadcast live on Iranian television, Khamenei said there would be no point to the negotiations if they did not yield immediate sanctions relief.

“All sanctions should be removed when the deal is signed,” Reuters quoted Khamenei as saying. “If the sanctions removal depends on other processes, then why did we start the negotiations?”

On Twitter, Khamenei went further, accusing the United States of overall bad faith.

“Hours after the #talks, Americans offered a fact sheet that most of it was contrary to what was agreed,” said a tweet posted on his feed Thursday. “They always deceive and breach promises.”

On the enrichment question, the Iranian and American outlines are not mutually exclusive.

“None of the nuclear facilities or related activities will be stopped, shut down, or suspended, and Iran’s nuclear activities in all of its facilities including Natanz, Fordow, Isfahan, and Arak will continue,” said the Iranian document, which goes on to name only Natanz as a site for 3.67 percent uranium enrichment, which comports with the U.S. document. The other sites are deemed acceptable for scientific research in the American version, a status that conceivably comports with “related activities” in the Iranian document.

What Israel wants to see

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in the immediate wake of the agreement that the framework deal would threaten Israel’s survival. He counseled “standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved.”

Netanyahu did not provide details, but in interviews he has said that Israel could tolerate a deal that left “hundreds” of centrifuges in place, as opposed to the 5,060 the U.S. outline anticipates — itself a significant concession for Netanyahu, who had previously said that Israel would tolerate no more than a zero capacity for uranium enrichment.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence, also provided more details of Israel’s desires for a final deal in a briefing for reporters in Jerusalem, demanding a complete end to research and development of advanced centrifuges, the shuttering of the underground Fordo facility, and freedom for inspectors to go “anytime, anywhere.”

In an Op-Ed published April 8 in the Washington Post, Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli defense minister, called for dismantling much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

“Intelligence and inspections are simply no substitute for dismantling the parts of Iran’s program that can be used to produce atomic bombs,” Yaalon wrote.

Israel also has an eye on Iran’s destabilizing activities elsewhere in the region. The Obama administration and its five negotiating partners – China, Russia, France, Germany and Great Britain – see the nuclear deal as discrete from other Iranian actions.

“Restrictions imposed on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program will expire in about a decade, regardless of Iran’s campaign of murderous aggression in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere across the Middle East; its arming, funding, training and dispatching of terrorists around the world; and its threats and violent efforts to destroy Israel, the region’s only democracy,” Yaalon wrote.

Netanyahu recently also demanded Iran’s recognition of Israel as a component of a final deal, a requirement that Obama has said is unrealistic.

What Congress wants to see

Two bills under consideration in Congress, both backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, could affect the outcome of an Iran deal.

One sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would mandate new sanctions should Iran default on a deal or walk away from the talks. Obama has said such a bill would scuttle the talks and has pledged to veto it. The bill was approved in January by the Senate Banking Committee. Now its fate is in the hands of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the majority leader, who must decide whether it advances to the full body.

McConnell has not shown his hand, but he is unlikely to move it forward unless he can build a veto-proof majority of 67, which would require the support of 13 Democrats. With Menendez sidelined as he faces indictment on corruption charges, that is unlikely.

The other bill, backed by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, would require congressional review of an Iran deal. That bill stands a better chance of passage.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is in line to become his party’s Senate leader in the next Congress, backs the bill as it is. Other Democrats, including key Obama allies like Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Menendez’s replacement as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the top Democrat on its Middle East subcommittee, say they would back the bill if Corker removes non-nuclear related elements, among them requirements that Iran cease backing for terrorism.

The Corker bill comes up for review by the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, and Cardin said he hoped to shape it to make it a “process” bill and not one that prescribes the terms of an agreement.

“One of my concerns is that the bill carries out its mission — a way for Congress to review and take action,” Cardin told JTA.

Obama, who had previously said he would veto the Corker bill, indicated this week that he could work with a modified version.

Iran’s Khamenei breaks silence in nuclear deal, says sanctions must go


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday demanded that all sanctions on Iran be lifted at the same time as any final agreement with world powers on curbing Tehran's nuclear program is concluded.

Khamenei, the Islamic Republic's most powerful figure and who has the last say on all state matters, was making his first comments on the interim deal reached between Iran and the powers last week in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

He repeated his faith in President Hassan Rouhani's negotiating team. But in remarks apparently meant to keep hardline loyalists on side, he warned about the “devilish” intentions of the United States.

“I neither support nor oppose the deal. Everything is in the details, it may be that the deceptive other side wants to restrict us in the details,” Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

His stand on the lifting of sanctions matched earlier comments by Rouhani, who said Iran would only sign a final nuclear accord if all measures imposed over its disputed atomic work are lifted on the same day.

These include nuclear-related United Nations resolutions as well as U.S. and EU nuclear-related economic sanctions.

“All sanctions should be removed when the deal is signed. If the sanctions removal depends on other processes, then why did we start the negotiations?” Khamenei said.

However, the United States said on Monday sanctions would have to be phased out gradually under the comprehensive nuclear pact. France also said on Tuesday that many differences, including on sanctions, needed to be overcome if a final agreement was to be reached.

The U.S. and EU sanctions have choked off nearly 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian exports since early 2012, reducing its oil exports by 60 percent to around 1 million barrels a day.

The tentative accord was a step toward a settlement that would allay Western fears that Iran could build an atomic bomb, with economic sanctions on Tehran being lifted in return.

Negotiators from Iran, the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China will resume negotiations in the coming days to pave the way for the final deal.

One problem is that Iran and the world powers may have different interpretations on what was agreed in the framework accord – a point Khamenei made evident.

“Americans put out a statement just a few hours after our negotiators finished their talks…this statement, which they called a 'fact sheet', was wrong on most of the issues.” Khamenei said.

ENMITY AND MISTRUST REMAINS

Since relations with Washington collapsed after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, enmity toward the United States has always been a rallying point for Iranian hardliners.

“I was never optimistic about negotiating with America… nonetheless I agreed to the negotiations and supported, and still support, the negotiators,” Khamenei said to chants of “Death to America.”

“I support a deal that preserves the interests and honor of Iran.”

The United States and its Western allies say it is vital that Iran fully cooperate with a U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into past nuclear activities that could be related to making weapons.

Iran for its part has said that “possible military dimensions” (PMD) are an issue it will not budge on.

“PMD is out of the question. It cannot be discussed,” an Iranian official said. This issue has not been resolved.

Khamenei ruled out any “extraordinary supervision measures” over Iran's nuclear activities.

“Iran's military sites cannot be inspected under the excuse of nuclear supervision,” he said.

“EXTRAORDINARY MONITORING”

A final deal would require a vigorous monitoring framework to ensure Iranian compliance. The negotiators have been working out a monitoring mechanism that would involve the IAEA. This has not been considered a sticking point in the nuclear talks.

France, which has demanded more stringent conditions on Iran, said the comments by the Iranian leadership showed that reaching a final deal would be difficult and that in any case there would need to be a mechanism in place to restore sanctions if Tehran violated its commitments.

“Subjects still remain that we aren't agreed on, notably on economic sanctions, and the Supreme Leader has made statements that show there is still a lot of work to be done,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told lawmakers.

“We are going to keep the position we have held from the beginning, which is constructive but extremely demanding,” Fabius said.

In a ceremony on Thursday to mark Iran's National Day of Nuclear Technology, Rouhani said Tehran's aim was to secure the Iranian nation's nuclear rights.

“Our goal in the talks is to preserve our nation's nuclear rights. We want an outcome that will be in everyone's benefit,” Rouhani said in a speech. “The Iranian nation has been and will be the victor in the negotiations.”

However, Khamenei said the tentative deal did not guarantee reaching a comprehensive deal by a deadline on June 30.

“What has been achieved so far does not guarantee a deal or even that the negotiations will continue to the end,” Khamenei said, adding that an extension of the deadline should not be a problem.

Khameni reiterated Iranian denials that Tehran was seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

A senior Israeli defense official repeated Israel's fears that Iran could still obtain a nuclear weapon if sanctions were lifted immediately and would have more money to spend on arming regional proxies. “The moment the sanctions are removed, tens of billions (of dollars) will flow to their coffers,” Amos Gilad said in a radio interview after Rouhani's speech. “They will get rich. They will have the power to support the entire network of missiles and rockets.”

Conflicting U.S., Iranian accounts on sanctions relief


After Iran and world powers agreed last week to a framework deal on curbing Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, Tehran and Washington seem to have different interpretations over how that will be done.

Many details must still be hammered out, including the pace and extent of sanctions removal, ahead of an end-June deadline for a final deal.

Below is a summary of U.S. and Iranian accounts on how quickly sanctions would be removed in case of a deal.

U.S. VIEW

According to a 'fact sheet' released by the United States after the framework deal was announced, “Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.”

U.S. and European sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program will be suspended after the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has met all its commitments under the agreement. Sanctions can “snap back” if Iran “fails to fulfill its commitments.”

U.N. Security Council resolutions related to Iran's nuclear program will be lifted “simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).”

U.S. officials have said the suspension of sanctions will take months to a year, depending on confirmation of Iran's compliance with a final deal.

Sources: Reuters, U.S. State Department

IRAN'S VIEW

Iran's top negotiators have repeatedly said that sanctions relief would not be implemented in phases, as claimed by the United States. Instead, the Iranians insist, all nuclear-related United Nations resolutions, as well as U.S. and EU nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, will be lifted immediately once a comprehensive nuclear accord is signed.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has disputed the U.S. 'fact sheet,' saying he had protested the issue with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

An Iranian version of a 'fact sheet' released to Iranian media following the framework accord said the following: “After the implementation of the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action, all of the U.N. Security Council resolutions will be revoked, and all of the multilateral economic and financial sanctions by the EU and unilateral sanctions by the United States, including financial, banking, insurance, investment, and all related services in various fields including oil, gas, petrochemicals, and automobile manufacturing will immediately be annulled.”

The Iranian statement adds: “Sanctions against real and legal individuals, organizations, government and private institutions under related nuclear sanctions on Iran including the Central Bank, other financial and banking institutions, SWIFT, Islamic Republic shipping and airlines, and oil shipping will immediately be lifted in a comprehensive manner.”

With jabs at Obama, CUFI lobbies for Iran sanctions, end to P.A. aid


With sharp jabs at the Obama administration, Christians United for Israel launched its annual Washington rally with appeals to Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran and cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority.

David Brog, the group’s executive director, said CUFI regarded the Iran nuclear talks as a failure and would back legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would impose new sanctions immediately. The Cruz measure is tougher than legislation already under consideration that would trigger sanctions only if the talks fail.

Brog acknowledged that Cruz’s bill has little chance of success but said it was time to declare the talks a failure.

“Enough was enough,” he said.

The six months of talks between Iran and the major powers, led by the United States, were extended Friday for another four months until Nov. 24, with all sides saying there had been progress toward a sanctions-for-nuclear-rollback deal.

Brog said the activists, numbering nearly 5,000, also would advocate Tuesday, the conference’s lobbying day, for a cutoff in funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as unity talks with Hamas continue. Israel’s government opposes a cutoff in part because of its security cooperation with the P.A.

“We’re very strict about not dictating policy to the Israeli government, but when it comes to money from our government, we do feel a little more entitled,” Brog told JTA.

The unity talks were launched in April, precipitating the collapse of the peace talks with Israel. With Israel and Hamas locked in conflict in the Gaza Strip, the status of the unity talks is unclear.

The CUFI activists who gathered Monday in the cavernous Washington Convention Center heard from pro-Israel leaders and lawmakers, including Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); and the organization’s founder, Pastor John Hagee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a recorded video message. The organization conferred an award on casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who have been major backers of pro-Israel and conservative causes.

The tone of the conference veered between joyful praise of Israel, with Christian choirs singing Israeli classics in Hebrew, and harsh criticism of the Obama administration, with Hagee attacking the president and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Referring to the collapsed peace process, Hagee said, “John Kerry, you can park your State Department jet in the hangar, your efforts to win the Nobel Prize at the expense of Israel has failed.”

Dermer focused on the Gaza conflict in his speech, saying that the Israeli army deserved “a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”

The ambassador parried anti-Israel hecklers who had infiltrated the hall – “There is a section for moral idiots at the back of the room,” he said — and thanked the Obama administration for its support during the recent conflict.

A number of lawmakers, including Cruz, addressed the group on Tuesday.

Six powers, Iran launch crunch phase of nuclear diplomacy


Six world powers and Iran launched a decisive phase of diplomacy on Wednesday to draft a lasting accord that would curb Tehran's contested nuclear activity in exchange for a phased end to sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy.

After three months of discussing expectations rather than negotiating possible compromises, the sides are to set about devising a package meant to end years of antagonism and curtail the risk of a wider Middle East war with global repercussions.

Washington's decades-long estrangement from Iran could ease, improving international stability, if a deal were done but U.S. and other Western officials warned against unwarranted optimism given persisting, critical differences between the sides.

“We've spent the last couple of rounds putting all of the issues on the table, seeing where there may be points of agreement, where there may be gaps. There are some very significant gaps,” a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

“It's not that there aren't solutions to those gaps; there are. But getting to them is another matter.”

To get a deal, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany will want Iran to agree to dramatically cut back its uranium enrichment program to remove any risk that it could lead to the making of atomic bombs, while Iran will want them to eliminate sanctions against its oil-based economy.

Diplomats from both sides have said they want to resolve all sticking points about issues such as Iran's capacity to enrich uranium and the future of its nuclear facilities, as well as the timeline of sanctions relief, by a July 20 deadline.

After that, an interim deal they struck last November expires and its extension would probably complicate talks.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the six, said negotiators held a “useful initial discussion” on Wednesday morning and would hold coordination meetings later in the day.

“We are now hoping to move to a new phase … in which we will start pulling together what the outline of an agreement could be. All sides are highly committed,” Michael Mann said.

ISRAELI THREAT TO HIT IRAN

Looming in the background of the talks have been threats by Israel, widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear weaponry but which sees Iran as a existential threat, to attack Iranian nuclear installations if it deems diplomacy ultimately futile in containing Tehran's atomic abilities and potential.

U.S. President Barack Obama has not ruled the last-ditch option of military action either.

Broadly, the six powers want to ensure the Iranian program is curtailed enough so that it would take Iran a long time to assemble nuclear bomb components if it chose to do so, and would be detected with intrusive inspections before it was too late.

Iran denies accusations of having nuclear weapons aspirations, saying it wants only peaceful atomic energy.

Central to this issue will be the number of centrifuge machines, which potentially can enrich uranium to bomb-fuel quality, that Iran would be permitted to operate.

Tehran has about 10,000 centrifuges running but the West will likely want that number trimmed to the low thousands, a demand that could be unacceptable to the Islamic Republic.

Iran's research and development of new nuclear technologies and the amount of stockpiled enriched uranium it may keep will also be crucial and likely difficult to negotiate. Refined uranium can be used as fuel in nuclear power plants or in weapons if purified to a high enough level.

“Halting research and development of uranium enrichment has never been up for negotiation, and we would not have accepted it either,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

“But a wide variety of issues have been discussed … and on uranium enrichment too we have tried to reach consensus.”

Diplomats say Iran, rather than deactivating centrifuges, wants to expand its enrichment program, saying it needs to do this to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants.

Iran entered talks with the big powers after moderate President Hassan Rouhani was elected last June.

“OUT OF CONTROL”

Diplomats have signaled some progress may have been made during three rounds of expert-level talks since February on one of the thorniest issues – the future of Iran's planned Arak heavy-water reactor, which Western states worry could prove a source of plutonium for nuclear bomb fuel once operational.

But the U.S. official cautioned that some media reports about progress reached up until now were going too far.

“I've read a lot of the optimism you've written,” the official told reporters. “It's gotten way out of control.”

Other diplomats from the powers warned that progress, if any, in the coming talks will be slow. And any agreement may come only at the 11th hour. “It's very difficult to say how it will all work in practice now. We have no agenda but that's not different from any other meeting,” said one.

“The figures will come at the end. They will be part of the big bargaining,” he said, referring to decisions about issues such as the number of centrifuges to remain in Iran.

Much of the complexity of the final deal stems from the fact that its various elements are intertwined. A higher number of centrifuges left in Iran would mean the powers wanting Tehran to more substantially slacken the pace of enrichment, for example.

“All the parameters are interdependent,” one diplomat said.

Politically, any deal could still be torpedoed by conservative hawks in the United States or Iran, and another interfering factor could be the approaching U.S. midterm congressional elections.

Divisions in Washington are closely linked to concerns in Israel that any deal might not go far enough. “We are not against diplomatic solutions. But on the one condition, that it is a serious and comprehensive solution. A solution that can be trusted,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister in charge of nuclear affairs, told reporters in Brussels last week.

“Iran should be denied not just to produce the bomb but also to have the capability,” he said.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl and Parisa Hafezi in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich

U.S., EU set sanctions as Putin recognizes Crimea ‘sovereignty’


The United States and European Union imposed personal sanctions on Monday on Russian and Crimean officials involved in the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing the region as a sovereign state.

The moves heightened the most serious East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War, following a disputed referendum in the Black Sea peninsula on Sunday in which Crimea's leaders declared a Soviet-style, 97-percent vote to secede from Ukraine.

Within hours, the Crimean parliament formally asked that Russia “admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic”. Putin will on Tuesday address a special joint session of Russia's State Duma, or parliament, which could take a decision on annexation of the majority ethnic-Russian region.

That would dismember Ukraine, a former Soviet republic once under Moscow's thumb, against its will. Kiev and the West said the referendum, held under armed Russian occupation, violated Ukraine's constitution and international law.

Russian forces took control of Crimea in late February following the toppling of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich after deadly clashes between riot police and protesters trying to overturn his decision to spurn a trade and cooperation deal with the EU in favor of cultivating closer ties with Russia.

U.S. President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for the seizure, including Yanukovich, and Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev, two aides to Putin.

Putin himself, suspected in the West of trying to resurrect as much as possible of the former Soviet Union under Russian leadership, was not on the blacklist. A White House spokesman declined to rule out adding him at a later stage.

Amid fears that Russia may move into eastern Ukraine where there is a significant Russian-speaking community, Obama warned that “further provocations” would only increase Moscow's isolation and exact a greater toll on its economy.

“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” he said.

A senior U.S. official said Obama's order cleared the way to sanction people associated with the arms industry and targets “the personal wealth of cronies” of the Russian leadership.

In Brussels, the EU's 28 foreign ministers agreed to subject 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials to visa restrictions and asset freezes for their roles in the events. They included three Russian military commanders in Crimea and districts bordering on Ukraine.

There were only three names in common on the U.S. and European lists – Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov and Leonid Slutski, chairman of the Russian Duma's committee on the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), grouping former Soviet republics. The EU blacklisted Yanukovich earlier this month.

The U.S. list appeared to target higher-profile Russian officials close to Putin, including a deputy Russian prime minister, while the EU went for mid-ranking officials who may have been more directly involved on the ground.

Washington and Brussels said further steps could follow in the coming days if Russia does not back down and formally annexes Crimea.

A senior Obama administration official said there was “concrete evidence” that some ballots in the Crimea referendum arrived in some Crimean cities pre-marked.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who was named on the White House sanctions list, suggested that the measures would not affect those without assets abroad.

DISMEMBERING UKRAINE

Obama said Russian forces must end “incursions” into its ex-Soviet neighbor, while Putin renewed his accusation that the new leadership in Kiev, brought to power by the uprising that toppled his elected Ukrainian ally last month, were failing to protect Russian-speakers from violent Ukrainian nationalists.

Moscow responded to Western pressure for an international “contact group” to mediate in the crisis by proposing a “support group” of states. This would push for recognition of the Crimean referendum and urge a new constitution for rump Ukraine that would require it to uphold political and military neutrality.

While a Western diplomat said some of the Russian ideas may offer scope for negotiation, Ukraine's interim president ruled out ever accepting the annexation of its territory.

A complete preliminary count of Sunday's vote showed that 96.77 percent of voters opted to join Russia, the chairman of the regional government commission overseeing the referendum, Mikhail Malyshev, announced on television.

Officials said the turnout was 83 percent. Crimea is home to 2 million people. Members of the ethnic Ukrainian and Muslim Tatar minorities had said they would boycott the poll, held just weeks after Russian forces took control of the peninsula.

Putin's popularity at home has been boosted by his action on Crimea despite serious risks for a stagnant economy.

Russian shares and the rouble rebounded as investors calculated that Western sanctions would be largely symbolic and would avoid trade or financial measures that would inflict significant economic damage.

However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said EU countries had begun discussing the need for Europe to reduce its reliance on Russian energy “over many years to come”. Much of that energy is shipped through gas pipelines crossing Ukraine.

Germany, the EU's biggest economy, gets 40 percent of its gas from Moscow and could become more dependent as it switches from nuclear power.

In a sign of possible internal debates ahead, euro zone newcomer Latvia said the EU should compensate any countries hurt by sanctions against Russia. The three former Soviet Baltic states, home to Russian-speaking minorities and dependent on Russian energy supplies, could suffer in any retaliation.

MOBILIZATION

Moscow defended the takeover of Crimea by citing a right to protect “peaceful citizens”. Ukraine's interim government has mobilized troops to defend against an invasion of its eastern mainland, where pro-Russian protesters have been involved in deadly clashes in recent days.

The Ukrainian parliament on Monday endorsed a presidential decree for a partial military mobilization to call up 40,000 reservists to counter Russia' military actions. Ukraine recalled its ambassador from Moscow for consultations.

Russia's lower house of parliament will pass legislation allowing Crimea to join Russia “in the very near future”, news agency Interfax cited its deputy speaker as saying.

U.S. and European officials say military action is unlikely over Crimea, which Soviet rulers handed to Ukraine 60 years ago.

But the risk of a wider incursion, with Putin calculating the West will not respond as he tries to restore Moscow's hold over its old Soviet empire, leaves NATO wondering how to help Kiev without igniting a wider conflict.

For now, the West's main tools appear to be escalating economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

Highlighting the stakes, journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, stood before an image of a mushroom cloud on his weekly TV show to issue a stark warning. He said: “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.”

Many Tatars, who make up 12 percent of Crimea's population, boycotted the vote, fearful of a revival of the persecution they suffered for centuries under Soviet rule from Moscow.

“This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not?” said Shevkaye Assanova, a Tatar in her 40s. “I don't recognize this at all.”

A pressing concern for the governments in Kiev and Moscow is the transfer of control of Ukrainian military bases. Many are surrounded by and under control of Russian forces, even though Moscow denies it has troops in the territory beyond facilities it leases for its important Black Sea Fleet.

Crimea's parliamentary speaker said on Monday that Ukrainian military units in the region would be disbanded, though personnel would be allowed to remain on the Black Sea peninsula.

Ukraine's border guard service accused Russian troops of evicting the families of their officers from their apartments in Crimea and mistreating their wives and children.

Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White and Andrew Osborn in Simferopol, Ron Popeski, Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Lina Kushch in Donetsk, Roberta Rampton and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Adrian Croft and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Lidia Kelly and Timothy Heritage in Moscow; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Paul Taylor; Editing by Mark Heinrich

British PM Cameron offers support for Israel in Knesset address


British Prime Minister David Cameron told Israeli lawmakers that his country would work against international boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

“You have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock-solid,” Cameron said in a speech Wednesday at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

Cameron arrived in Israel on Wednesday afternoon for a whirlwind two-day visit, his first visit to the Jewish state since he became the British prime minister in 2010. The visit was rescheduled from last month, when floods devastated areas of Britain. Cameron visited Israel in 2009 as leader of the opposition in Britain. He is leading a business delegation on this visit.

He also called for the achievement of a two-state solution which would provide “justice for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.”

“We back the compromises needed —- including the halt to settlement activity and an end to Palestinian incitement too,” he said.

He is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday.

Cameron told the Knesset that his great-great-grandfather was a Jewish man from Germany, and that this relationship gives him “some sense of connection” to the Israeli people.

Cameron also told the Knesset that he would continue to support Jewish ritual practices in Britain, including ritual slaughter, or shechitah, which has been under attack in countries throughout Europe.

“The Jewish community has been an absolute exemplar in integrating into British life in every way,” said Cameron, “but integration doesn’t mean that you have to give up things that you hold very dear in your religion.”

During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opening remarks and his speech following Cameron’s, haredi Orthodox and Arab lawmakers walked out and heckled Netanyahu in response to the passage of legislation this week to raise the threshold required for a party to enter the Knesset, and to draft haredi Orthodox yeshiva students.

AIPAC says ‘no’ to vote on Iran sanctions bill


AIPAC, the main pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill, broke with its allies in the Republican Party, and came out against holding a vote on a new Iran sanctions bill until there is clear bipartisan support, ” target=”_blank”>in return for Iranian promises to slow down and limit its uranium enrichment. Supporters of the agreement argued that diplomacy should be tried before war. Opponents said that this agreement makes a war more likely and backs Israel into a corner.

2. This ” target=”_blank”>initially called for a bill in Congress that would reimpose the relaxed Iranian sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal or if it didn't extend after the six month sunset.

4. A ” target=”_blank”>threatened to veto an Iran sanctions bill that passed the Senate and House. To override a veto, both the Senate and House would have to support the bill with a two-thirds majority, which would not happen in this case, even though these negotiations have significant implications for Israel's national security–something that Shmuel Rosner thinks ” target=”_blank”>spoke on the Senate floor, reemphasizing his support for the bill, even in light of Obama's veto threat, but taking his foot off the pedal, cautioning that bringing his bill to a vote now would turn what is normally a bipartisan issue into a partisan one (Author's note: Sorry, Senator, it already is partisan.)

8. AIPAC, in an about-face, endorsed Menendez's caution, effectively calling on lawmakers to wait to bring the issue to a vote until it has clear bipartisan support (i.e. enough support to override an Obama veto). The statement reads, in full:

“AIPAC commends Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) for his strong and eloquent statement on the Senate floor today outlining the threat of Iran's nuclear program and the imperative of dismantling it.  We appreciate his commitment to ensure that any agreement with Iran 'is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon.'

“We applaud Senator Menendez’s determined leadership on this issue and his authorship with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.  We remain committed to working with the Administration and the bipartisan leadership in Congress to ensure that the Iran nuclear program is dismantled.”

 


 

There are two reasons why AIPAC would change its mind. Either AIPAC is prepared to fight Obama on a veto and risk drawing the long-term ire of much of the Democratic Party (if it hasn't done so already). Or AIPAC is not prepared to fight Obama on a veto and will oppose the legislation because it wants to maintain strong support in the Democratic Party (if it still has it). The former is more likely than the latter. Considering that until Thursday, AIPAC appeared ready to fight Obama on this issue, it probably calculated that there's no honor in pushing a sanctions bill that will be vetoed and go no further. Better to wait, AIPAC figures, until it can muster a two-thirds majority (which, again, won't happen) or until the political calculus changes to the point where a simple majority would suffice (maybe 2016?).

These represent major changes in Congress's 

Over 70 House Dems sign letter to Obama opposing sanctions


More than 70 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to President Obama supporting his opposition to new Iran sanctions.

The letter, initiated by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and David Price (D-N.C.), expresses support for talks now underway between Iran and major powers on the Iranian nuclear program.

“We understand that there is no assurance of success and that, if talks break down or Iran reneges on pledges it made in the interim agreement, Congress may be compelled to act as it has in the past by enacting additional sanctions legislation,” says the letter, which has not yet been sent and which JTA obtained Tuesday from Doggett’s office.

“At present, however, we believe that Congress must give diplomacy a chance,” says the letter, first reported by The Washington Post on Monday. “A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement, must be avoided.”

Signatories were not made available, although Doggett’s office said they numbered more than 70.

Sources said they include Jewish lawmakers with strong pro-Israel records.

Obama has said he would veto legislation under consideration in the Senate that would impose new sanctions on Iran, arguing that the agreement that led to renewed talks bans new sanctions and that such a bill could collapse the international coalition that helped bring Iran to the talks table.

Proponents of the new sanctions, among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, say they would strengthen the U.S. hand at the talks.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a companion bill last summer, before talks started, but it is not clear today whether it would have the same support among Democrats.

“As a member of Congress who has consistently voted to impose tough economic sanctions on Iran, I believe those sanctions have worked,” Doggett said in a statement.

“In honoring our commitment to Israel, we must use all of America’s strengths, including the strength of our diplomacy, to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear-armed,” he said. “Congress should not undermine diplomacy by giving the Iranian hardliners an excuse to scuttle the negotiations.”

The new sanctions bill garnered some Democratic support in the Senate when it was introduced in December, but this has slipped away since Congress returned from its holiday break.

At a hearing convened Tuesday by the bill’s main Democratic sponsor, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, most Democrats and at least one Republican — Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — said they were opposed to advancing sanctions now.

“We have to return to the tradition of aggressive diplomacy,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), citing as a precedent President Theodore Roosevelt’s brokering of a Russia-Japan peace.

Menendez in his opening remarks expressed concerns that the limited sanctions relief that brought Iran to the table could snowball. “We have placed our incredibly effective international sanctions regime on the line without clearly defining the parameters of what we expect in a final agreement,” he said.

Separately, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Tuesday launched a citizens’ petition against new sanctions.

“Let’s give the Obama Administration and their partners the room to work out a peaceful resolution to this long-festering crisis before voting on any additional sanctions or other efforts that would undermine diplomacy,” he said in an email distributed by the MoveOn.org, a liberal activist group. The petition had garnered close to 50,000 signatures by early Tuesday evening.

Hillary Clinton opposes new Iran sanctions


Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was opposed to new Iran sanctions and urged Congress to give negotiations space to succeed.

“As President Obama has said, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed, while keeping all options on the table,” Clinton said in a letter solicited by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and a preeminent opponent of new sanctions under consideration in Congress.

“The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that imposing new unilateral sanctions now ‘would undermine the prospects for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran’,” she said in the Jan. 26 letter released Sunday by Levin’s office. “I share that view.”

The statement by Clinton, until a year ago the secretary of state and before that a senator from New York and also first lady, is significant because she is potentially a presidential candidate in the 2016 elections and – like Levin – is seen as among the Democrats closest to the pro-Israel community.

The American Jewish Congress, led by Jack Rosen, a major donor to past presidential campaigns, is hosting a dinner in Clinton’s honor next month in New York.

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) proposed the new sanctions, which have received vigorous support from much of the pro-Israel community, notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Introduced in December, the bill at first drew substantial Democratic support, but it has waned in recent weeks.

Proponents of the sanctions say they would strengthen the West’s hands in the talks with Iran.

New congressional sanctions, Clinton said, would collapse the international alliance that brought Iran to talks underway with the major powers aimed at stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Obama opposes the new sanctions and has said he would veto them.

Levin thanked Clinton for her letter in a statement on his website.

“It makes clear Secretary Clinton’s belief that tough sanctions helped bring Iran to the negotiating table, and that Congress and the administration are poised to act if Iran violates its commitments or fails to negotiate in good faith toward a final agreement,” he said. “Her letter is another strong signal to Congress that we should not take any legislative action at this time that would damage international unity or play into the hands of hard-liners in Iran who oppose negotiations.”

AIPAC’s tough sanctions choice


In previous AIPAC versus White House dustups, the pro-Israel lobbying group’s strategy was to speak softly and let Congress carry the big stick.

But in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s face-off with the Obama administration over new Iran sanctions, congressional support may not be so readily available and keeping a low public profile is proving impossible.

According to congressional insiders and some of the pro-Israel lobbying group’s former senior executives, AIPAC may soon face a tough choice: Stick out the battle over sanctions and potentially face a reputation-damaging defeat, or reach out to the White House and find a way for both sides to save face.

“I don’t believe this is sustainable, the confrontational posture,” said Steve Rosen, a former AIPAC foreign policy chief known for his hawkishness on Iran.

The Obama administration has taken a firm line against the sanctions bill backed by AIPAC, warning that the legislation would harm prospects for achieving a diplomatic solution on the Iranian nuclear issue. Meanwhile, the confrontation has landed AIPAC squarely in the media spotlight and drawn pointed criticism from leading liberal commentators.

AIPAC has been stymied by a critical core of Senate Democrats who have sided with the Obama administration in the fight. While AIPAC’s bid to build a veto-busting majority has reached 59 — eight short of the needed 67 — it has stalled there in part because Democrats have more or less stopped signing on.

Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the bill’s sponsors, rounded up 15 Democrats when the bill was introduced on Dec. 19, just before Congress went on its Christmas recess. Since Congress returned this month, however, they have added just one Democrat, Michael Bennet of Colorado.

AIPAC, however, says its bid to pass sanctions is on track.

“Our top priority is stopping Iran’s nuclear program, and consequently we are very engaged in building support for the Menendez-Kirk bill which now has the bi-partisan co-sponsorship of 59 senators,” AIPAC’s spokesman, Marshall Wittman, wrote in an email to JTA. “This measure would provide our negotiators with critical leverage in their efforts to achieve a peaceful end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

But in a recent interview with The New Yorker, President Barack Obama appeared confident that backers of the bill would not reach a veto-proof majority.

“I don’t think a new sanctions bill will reach my desk during this period, but if it did, I would veto it and expect it to be sustained,” Obama said.

A source close to AIPAC said the stall in support for the legislation is due in part to the fact that of 10 committee chairmen opposed to the bill, four are Jewish and have histories of closeness to the pro-Israel community.

Non-Jewish lawmakers tend to take their cues on Israel-related issues from their Jewish colleagues — a common template with lawmakers from other communities — and this is no different, the source said.

AIPAC’s efforts have spurred surprisingly blunt criticism from sources that are more known for caution on such matters. The new director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Rabbi Jack Moline, earlier this month in an interview accused AIPAC activists of using “strong-arm” tactics on uncommitted senators.

Douglas Bloomfield, who served as AIPAC’s legislative director in the 1980s and is now frequently critical of the group, warned that with most Democrats inclined to back Obama on this issue, the confrontational posture taken by AIPAC could wound its reputation down the road.

“There could be repercussions across the board with a lot of members of Congress the next time they say they want them to go to the barricades,” he said.

AIPAC already is taking some high-profile hits on TV, with liberal commentators accusing the lobby of trying to scuttle a diplomatic settlement with Iran.

“The senators from the great state of Israel are against it,” comedian Jon Stewart said last week on “The Daily Show,” accompanied by a graphic of a map of Israel emblazoned with the AIPAC logo. MSNBC host Chris Hayes said the 16 Democratic senators backing the sanctions bill are “afraid” of AIPAC.

Rosen said that such exposure, while irritating to AIPAC, would not be a factor in getting the lobby to shift course. More serious would be calls from donors to the group who have ties to Democrats. AIPAC’s reputation as having bipartisan support — a critical element of its influence — could be put at risk.

“AIPAC puts a premium on bipartisan consensus and maintaining communication with the White House,” said Rosen, who was fired by AIPAC in 2005 after being investigated in a government leak probe, though the resulting charges were dismissed and he later sued AIPAC unsuccessfully for damages.

Rosen noted AIPAC’s forthcoming policy conference in March; such conferences routinely feature a top administration official — the president or vice president, the secretary of state or defense. At least one of these failing to appear “would be devastating to AIPAC’s image of bipartisanship,” he said.

A way out for the group would be to quietly negotiate a compromise behind the scenes with the White House, Rosen said.

“They don’t want to be seen as backing down,” he said of his former employer, “but the White House is good at helping people backing down without seeming to back down.”

Doing the math on Dems and the Iran sanctions bill


At The Washington Post, Greg Sargent uncovers letters from Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) opposing, at least for now, new Iran sanctions. (I wrote this week about how the bid to build a veto-proof majority for the sanctions legislation has stalled.)

Sargent does some math and figures that with these two, “the number of Dems against a vote has comfortably surpassed the number who want one.”

I count 19 members of the Senate Democratic caucus opposed to a vote, versus 15 who might be assumed to support one, with 21 not accounted for.

Here’s how I got there.

There are 16 Democrats out of the 59 Senators co-sponsoring the bill, including lead sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). (On Dec. 19, when the bill was launched, 15 Democrats signed on; Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado is the sole Democrat to have signed onto the bill since Congress returned to work this month.) Subtract from those 16 Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who now opposes advancing the bill while talks are underway between Iran and the major powers. The White House and sympathetic Democrats say the bill could scuttle the talks; backers of the bill say new sanctions would enhance the U.S. hand in the talks.

So that’s 15 one might assume still back advancing the bill.

As Sargent notes, there are 10 committee chairs who signed a letter opposing the bill. In addition to those, there are another nine senators who in recent weeks have told interlocutors they oppose advancing the bill for now: There are Murray and Warren, plus Blumenthal. There are another four listed in this Huffington Post roundup. Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, is listed here. And I’ve heard from Rhode Island Jewish officials that Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is opposed to advancing the bill now.

The White House is competing hard with backers of the bill, including leading pro-Israel groups, for the remaining 21 members of the Democratic caucus. Among them are key players in states with substantial Jewish communities, like Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader; Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the assistant majority leader; and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio.).

Here are some other breakdowns. Of the Senate’s seven Democratic leaders, two are signed on to the bill, two have said they won’t advance it, and three others we’re not sure. The breakdown of committee chairs is 13 against, four for and three not known.

Of the ten Jewish Democrats, six (Dianne Feinstein-Calif., Barbara Boxer-Calif., Ron Wyden-Ore., Carl Levin-Mich., Blumenthal and Sanders) oppose advancing the bill now, two favor it (Ben Cardin-Md. and Schumer) and two have yet to say (Franken-Minn. and Schatz-Hawaii).

Among Republicans, 43 out of 45 back the bill; the holdouts are Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Sanctions support grows


More than half the U.S. Senate has signed on to a bill that would intensify sanctions against Iran. But in a sign of the so-far successful effort by the White House to keep the bill from reaching a veto-busting 67 supporters, only 16 Democrats are on board.

The number of senators co-sponsoring the bill, introduced by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), reached 59 this week, up from just 33 before the Christmas holiday break.

Notably only one of the 25 who signed up in recent days — Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) — is a Democrat, a sign of intense White House lobbying among Democrats to oppose the bill.

Backers of the bill say it would strengthen the U.S. hand at the negotiations. But President Barack Obama has said he would veto the bill because it could upend talks now under way between the major powers and Iran aimed at keeping the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear bomb. A similar bill passed this summer by the U.S. House of Representatives had a veto-proof majority.

On Jan. 9, the White House said backers of the bill should be upfront about the fact that it puts the United States on the path to war.

“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” Bernadette Meehan, the National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement posted by The Huffington Post. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”

A number of pro-Israel groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are leading a full-court press for the bill’s passage, with prominent Jewish leaders in a number of states, making calls and writing letters to holdouts. Dovish Jewish groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now oppose the bill.

The bill would expand sanctions in part by broadening existing definitions targeting energy and banking sectors to all “strategic sectors,” including engineering, mining and construction. It would also tighten the definition of entities eligible for exceptions and broaden the definition of targeted individuals who assist Iran in evading sanctions.

The National Jewish Democratic Council, in an effort to back a Democratic president while not expressly opposing intensified sanctions, issued a mixed verdict on the bill, saying it does not support its passage at present though the option of intensified sanctions should remain open down the road if the president seeks it.

“We encourage Congress to support the president’s foreign policy initiative by making stronger measures available should they be required,” the statement said. “Final action on the legislation should be dependent upon Iran’s full compliance with its obligations.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, the NJDC’s executive director, accused AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) of “strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they don’t vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.”

David Harris, the AJC’s executive director, said he was “shocked” by Moline’s allegations.

“We support the Iran sanctions bill, as do a bipartisan majority of U.S. senators,” he said. “Can a group differ with him on a critically important issue like Iran, where potentially existential issues are at stake, without being maligned or misrepresented, or is that the price we’re supposed to pay for honest disagreement?”

A spokesman for AIPAC declined to comment. Moline subsequently apologized to the AJC, telling JTA that his understanding now is that the pressure had been exerted in the organization’s name — not by its employees. 

Despite its majority, the law faces significant Senate opposition. Ten committee chairmen in the Democratic-led Senate have pushed back against new legislation in a letter to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader. One of the committee chairman, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) of the banking committee, has the parliamentary power to hold the bill.

Among the other committee chairs opposed to advancing the bill now are four Jewish senators: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee; Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment Committee; and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Energy Committee. 

Obama to Congress: Now isn’t the time for new Iran sanctions


President Obama urged Congress not to pass new Iran sanctions as jockeying continued among groups that favor and oppose the sanctions.

“My preference is for peace and diplomacy, and this is one of the reasons why I’ve sent a message to Congress that now is not the time for us to impose new sanctions,” Obama said at the White House on Monday, a day after Iran and major powers agreed on the terms of an interim six-month agreement that would lead to a final status deal preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Now is the time for us to allow the diplomats and technical experts to do their work,” Obama said. “We will be able to monitor and verify whether or not the interim agreement is being followed through on, and if it is not, we’ll be in a strong position to respond.”

The administration continues to implement existing sanctions. David Cohen, the Treasury undersecretary charged with administering the sanctions, is traveling this week to Italy and Austria to monitor enforcement in those countries.

Supporters of the new sanctions say they would not violate the terms of the agreement with Iran because they would only be triggered should Iran renege.

The interim agreement offers Iran partial sanctions relief in exchange for a partial rollback of its nuclear program.

The new sanctions, strongly backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and some other Jewish groups, have the explicit backing of 59 senators — short of the 67 needed to vitiate Obama’s promised veto.

Opponents of the sanctions are touting the opposition of a number of leading pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate, including Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Five left-leaning Jewish groups were among 62 organizations that signed a letter this week urging the U.S. Senate not to pass new sanctions, among them, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.

A group backing sanctions, the Foreign Policy Initiative, has a letter signed by a number of hawkish foreign policy figures, including some preeminent in the Jewish community, among these Josh Block, who directs the Israel Project, and Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, and John Podhoretz, who edits Commentary.

Each side rushes to inform reporters about supposed defections from the other side; Jeffrey Goldberg, an Bloomberg columnist influential among Jewish leaders and an Iran hawk this week said he opposed sanctions, while Robert Gates, the former defense secretary under Bush and Obama known for his cautious approach to engagement overseas, said he backs them.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip in the Senate, cautioned the White House to curb its rhetoric against Democrats who favor the new sanctions.

“There have been some that have suggested in the White House that those folks were more interested in war than they were in the resolution by peaceful means,” Politico quoted Hoyer as saying Tuesday. “I think that is absolutely untrue, [an] irresponsible assertion, and ought to be clarified and retracted by those who have made it within the administration.”