Iran nuclear talks at the UN
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton attend meeting at the UN on Sept. 26, 2013. Photo by AP
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Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Photo by AP

The head of the Anti-Defamation League Abe Foxman has come out in clear support of legislation of new sanctions on Iran while blasting what he describes as the administration’s “hysterical” reaction to possibility that Congress will enact them.

“I am embarrassed by how our government has accepted the threats of blackmail by the Iranians against even discussing new sanctions,” Foxman told Haaretz on Friday. “I would have liked them to tell Tehran: we are a democracy, and you can’t tell our legislators or us what we can or cannot discuss."

“I find it very puzzling,” Foxman added, “that the administration would be so hysterical about such a debate in Congress.”

Foxman’s strong statement comes against the backdrop of a sustained effort by the administration to try and persuade Congress and Jewish organizations not to press for new sanctions at this time. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to make the case for Congressional restraint in a hitherto unannounced Saturday appearance before the Saban Forum in Washington, but Foxman’s unequivocal position shows that the president and his advisers are facing an uphill battle.

Foxman said that he supports legislation of new sanctions that would only be implemented in the future and with the approval of the administration. “If sanctions worked to get the Iranians to negotiate in the first place,” Foxman said, “then the threat of future sanctions can only help the talks to progress. The fact that the administration can decide on putting such sanctions into effect will only strengthen its hands at the negotiating table.”
When asked about the fact that legislation of new sanctions could be construed as contravening the interim Geneva agreement with Tehran, Foxman retorted: “The administration showed weakness when it agreed to the clause against new sanctions, but there is no reason to continue to show weakness at this point.”

Foxman also blasted what he described as the administration’s unfulfilled pledge not to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium. “First they said that they didn’t, and now the White House says that they did, or that they probably will,” he said.

He said that he was “unimpressed” by the administration’s contention that new sanctions could cause the Iranians to abandon the talks or might erode the international sanctions regime against Iran. “Don’t forget, for a while it was other countries, such as France and Britain, who were pushing us to enact stronger sanctions.”

Asked whether he had any criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s harsh reaction to the Geneva agreement - which has been voiced privately by several Jewish leaders - Foxman said that he felt that “the prime minister was entitled to be angry and to respond the way he did because of the revelations of how long and how extensive were the secret talks that the administration had with the Iranians. This was a violation of the ‘special relationship’ between two countries that are such close allies.”

Foxman added, however, “One cannot continue relationships in anger. There has to be a calming down from the anger.” He said that he believes that such a new start was achieved in the Obama-Netanyahu phone conversation, which led to the dispatch of an Israeli team lead by National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen for talks on the next steps in the talks with Iran.

“What they said was: we’re done shouting at each other, now let’s share trust again,” Foxman said.