Crisis Over Crimea Steals Thunder From AIPAC Conference

Some 14,000 delegates expected to attend Washington gathering, but will anybody be paying attention?

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The recent losses of face over the Syria and Iran issues had already cast a pall on the mammoth annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which opens Sunday in Washington. But the crisis in the capital over Russia's move into Crimea, which threatens to reignite the Cold War, has infused the America Israel Public Affairs Committee confab with a strong sense of anticlimax.

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If a week ago the question before the 14,000 delegates was whether AIPAC could regain the full fearsomeness of its reputation in Washington, the question now appears to be: Will anybody be paying attention?

With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the delegates on Monday and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering the final speech on Tuesday, there are two key messages AIPAC wants to deliver to the White House: Do not make undue demands of Israel in the upcoming "framework agreement" for a peace treaty with the Palestinians, and do get tougher on Iran.

The hope in AIPAC was that it could regain some of the power to intimidate that it lost recently by backing down on its fight to force new sanctions on Iran, and by supporting President Barack Obama's plan to attack Syria's chemical weapons, only to see Obama scrap the plan at the last minute in exchange for negotiations.

But the Obama administration's confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin has clearly overshadowed these issues. Furthermore, with the United States at loggerheads again with its old nemesis Russia, AIPAC is unlikely to be broadcasting threats at President Barack Obama; in Washington this is a time for rallying around the flag.

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman is scheduled to speak Sunday, along with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. Monday will feature Sen. John McCain and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, as well as Kerry, while Tuesday's closing speech by Netanyahu will be preceded by an address from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at past AIPAC policy conference in Washington DC.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom GPO

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