AIPAC Presses Obama: Stay Firm on Iran

As annual convention opens, pro-Israel lobby circulates letter calling on Obama to adopt approach to Islamic republic that, as described, echoes that of Netanyahu.

After recently leading a losing battle in Congress against President Barack Obama's diplomatic strategy on Iran, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, whose annual convention in Washington opened Sunday, is giving it another try.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee circulated a letter to Obama urging him to take a much more restrictive approach to Iran's nuclear program – an approach that, as described, echoed that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter was signed by three Democratic senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (New Jersey), and three Republican senators led by the outspokenly hawkish Lindsey Graham (South Carolina).

The AIPAC letter said that if and when a final nuclear treaty is signed with Iran, Obama should be guided by the principles that Iran has "no inherent right to [uranium] enrichment;" and that there is "no reason" for Iran's enrichment facility at Fordo, nor for its heavy water facility at Arak.

In recent months, AIPAC led a move in Congress to pass a bill imposing new sanctions on Iran, even though the United States and the six world powers agreed in November to relax sanctions in return for Iran's pledge  to stop enriching uranium to a level approaching weapons-grade. But after Obama vowed to veto such a bill, arguing that new sanctions would drive Iran away from the negotiating table and perhaps lead to war, Democratic support for the legislation fell away and AIPAC shelved its campaign, which was seen as a huge defeat for the lobby.

In an alarmed tone, the AIPAC letter went on to say: "[W]e believe Iran must not be allowed during these negotiations to circumvent sanctions. We view this period as one fraught with the danger of companies and countries looking to improve their commercial position in Tehran especially given recent reports of rising purchases of Iranian oil. Iran cannot be allowed to be open for business. As you have stated, we must come down on those who are undermining sanctions 'like a ton of bricks.'