Pelosi Headed to Israel With Iran, Ukraine on the Agenda

Two years since her last visit to Israel, the Speaker of the House will lead a congressional delegation to the Knesset on Wednesday. Also visiting Jerusalem this week: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressing the media at a press conference in Washington last week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressing the media at a press conference in Washington last week. Credit: Mariam Zuhaib/AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who once lauded the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as a “diplomatic masterpiece,” is visiting Israel this week as U.S. efforts to reenter the agreement reach an inflection point.

Pelosi will head the congressional delegation set to visit the Knesset on Wednesday, over two years since her last official visit to Jerusalem, with the Iran talks in Vienna sure to be on the agenda. She will be accompanied by key lawmakers related to foreign relations, appropriations and intelligence — including Reps. Adam Schiff, Ted Deutch, Barbara Lee, Bill Keating, Eric Swalwell, Ro Khanna and Andy Kim.

While the Biden administration has adopted a notably more optimistic tone about the prospects of an agreement in the past several weeks, top Democrats are in open disagreement about the best way to engage with the Iranian nuclear threat. Republicans, meanwhile, are threatening to scuttle any potential reentry into the deal, forecasting the political battle on the horizon.

Pelosi is visiting days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and U.S. President Joe Biden discussed Iran in a phone call, which was followed by Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata’s flash visit to Washington, where he met with his U.S. counterpart Jake Sullivan and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

Pelosi has been publicly critical of Israel’s posture concerning the U.S.’ withdrawal from the deal in 2018, as well as its opposition to potential reentry.

“I have a good rapport with our ally. Israel is a close friend of ours. But they were still talking about ‘What are we going to do? They [Iran] are so far down the line,’” Pelosi told a virtual event hosted by the Ploughshares Fund last October, following her D.C. meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “We’re like, ‘Well, yeah, that’s why we had the agreement.’ But they just don’t seem to see that walking away from the agreement enabled the Iranians to be farther down the line.”

Pelosi’s visit also comes as the U.S. president is warning of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. She told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that she understood “why the president of Ukraine wants to keep people calm and that he wants his economy not to suffer. But, on the other hand, if we were not threatening the sanctions and the rest, it would guarantee that Putin would invade. Let’s hope that diplomacy works.”

Her comments came as Israeli officials scrambled to formulate evacuation and absorption plans concerning Ukrainian Jews fleeing to Israel.

She has long triumphed her pro-Israel bona fides and relations with the U.S.-Jewish community, and long stressed her personal support for Israel. She has also trumpeted her dedication to ensuring that support for Israel remains a bipartisan issue despite growing criticism of Israeli policy from her own party’s progressive wing. For example, during Lapid’s October visit, Pelosi said support for Israel “for many of us is in our DNA,” noting her father – himself a Democratic member of Congress – pushed then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt to back the establishment of the State of Israel.

Pelosi also welcomed then-President Reuven Rivlin during his farewell visit last June, noting her leading of a bipartisan delegation to Yad Vashem and Auschwitz to mark the 75th anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation in January 2020. The visit to the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem was her last visit to Israel prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz during that trip, and the two spoke last September after the House overwhelmingly approved $1 billion in emergency funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system – though that remains stymied by political gridlock in the Senate.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill last October.Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The Pelosi-led delegation is one of several concurrent Israel visits from U.S. lawmakers. Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most ardent pro-Israel Republicans in the Senate, also arrived in Israel earlier this week and met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog. He was slated to visit during the Senate's December recess, though this was delayed due to the Omicron variant outbreak.

The House is currently in recess, a period lawmakers often use for international travel. A delegation of first-term lawmakers are slated to arrive on a trip organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, the AIPAC-affiliated charitable organization that organizes trips to Israel for members of Congress. The standing trip usually occurs in the summers of off-election years, but last year's trip was postponed due to COVID-19 considerations.

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