Leaders of four major Jewish organizations have indicated to the Obama Administration that they will have a 60-day moratorium during which they will refrain from conducting any public campaign urging Congress to strengthen U.S. sanctions against Iran.
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The understanding was reached during a sometimes tense meeting at the White House this week between a group of senior Administration officials led by National Security Adviser Susan Rice and executives and leaders from an ad hoc “quartet” of influential Jewish organizations: AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, The Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
Though they refrained from describing it as “a deal” or a quid pro quo, sources familiar with the meeting said they had agreed to a limited “grace period” only after hearing assurances from the Administration that it had no intention of easing sanctions or of releasing Iranian funds that have been “frozen” in banks around the world.
Sources in the Jewish establishment emphasized that they did not make any commitment to refrain from supporting new sanctions in their private dealings with the U.S. lawmakers nor would they ask Congress to stop their own initiatives. Another source at an organization represented at the meeting, who insisted on anonymity, said that he “categorically denies that any commitment was given for any such moratorium. In fact, if the Senate moves forward with sanctions legislation, we will support it.”
The Administration contends that ratcheting up the sanctions at this delicate juncture as the P5+1 prepares for a new round of talks with the Iranians on November 7 could unravel the international coalition that U.S. President Barack Obama has succeeded in enlisting to apply pressure on Tehran.
Although the White House refused to confirm this or any other detail connected to the meeting, sources said that in addition to Russia and China, the Administration believes that several Western European countries are liable to exploit a unilateral strengthening of sanctions as an excuse to establish their own independent sanctions regime toward Tehran.
The sides agreed to hold an interim consultation meeting in a month and to reconvene the new forum in two months, at the end of the period of grace. It is expected that at least two rounds of talks with Tehran will be held by then.
The sources said that the Administration’s main concern is with the Senate Banking Committee, which is slated to discuss a markup of a bill already passed by the House or Representatives at the end of July that would dramatically curtail Iran’s ability to export oil.
But the Senate procedures, the sources added, won’t reach fruition before December anyway, by which time “all bets will be off,” as one Jewish official said.
The sources said that the White House meeting, in which well-known Jewish figures such as Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents, Howard Kohr of AIPAC and Abe Foxman of the ADL participated, was “intense and sometimes intense.” They said that both sides came into the meeting with “apprehensions and misconceptions:” the Americans thought that the Jewish leaders were unwilling to give diplomacy a chance, while the Jewish leaders were concerned that they would be asked to support an easing of some of the sanctions already in place.
In the meantime, senior Administration officials sought to reassure the Jewish community about the Administration’s resolve to prevent a nuclear Iran at the ADL’s Centennial Conference in New York on Thursday. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said “We are very clear-eyed about reality in the Middle East. Iran is a state sponsor of terror, responsible for spreading hatred and extremism throughout the region. But foreign policy is not a zero-sum game. If we can find ways to resolve disputes peacefully, we are wise to explore them.”
“Engagement is not appeasement, nor is it containment,” he said. “We know what those are, we know where they lead, and we will not pursue them. And President Obama has repeatedly made clear that words are not enough. Action must match words.
“We understand why this is so important to so many people. Because we’ve been to Yad Vashem,” Hagel added.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power also reiterated the Administration’s intent to prevent a nuclear Iran. “We cannot and we will not allow it,” she said.