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December 18, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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December 18, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 18, 2009 PAGE 17A By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- For years the pro-Israel lob- by has been pushing more punitive steps to deter Iran's nuclear ambitions. But with enhanced U.S. sanctions increasingly likely by early next year, opponents and supporters agree that the case was finally made--by Iran itself. The key to the accelerated path to a sanctions bill that insiders now believe will land on President Obama's desk within a month was Iran's belligerent rejec- tion of a Western offer to substantively enhance its peaceful nuclear program in exchange for greater transparency. "There's no lack of appetite for passing the sanctions," said an official of one of the centrist pro-Israel groups that has pushed for legisla- tion targeting third parties, including countries that deal with Iran's energy sector. "It's evident," the official said, that the Iranians "do not want talks. They're not going full speed ahead, they're going full nuclear ahead." Even a leading opponent of sanctions, such as Trita Parsi, who heads the Na- tional Iranian American Council, conceded that such a measure now seems inevi- table-and that the Iranian government's behavior in recent weeks was behind the accelerated pace. "There's a very justified disappointment with how the negotiations have gone and with how the Iranians have conducted the negotia- tions," he said. In October, Iran ini- tially accepted the offer to hand over much of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for fur- ther enrichment to medi- cal research levels. It also agreed to allow inspectors to examine a second, secret nuclear enrichment plant at Qom, just days after Presi- dent Obama revealed its existence based on Western intelligence reports. Within weeks, however, Iran reneged on the deal-- despite claiming that it had suggested the deal in the first place--and obstructed inspectors from the Inter- national Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, from thoroughly investigating the second enrichment site. Parsi asserted that the re- sistance arose not from a re- gime implacably opposed to engagement with the West, but instead from elements that oppose Mahmoud Ah- madinejad's government and seek to undermine it by painting the government as undermining Iran's national interests. The paradox, Parsi said, is that these elements are otherwise perceived in the West as friendlier to rapprochement. Nonetheless, Iran's recidi- vism led two of the most criti- cal opponents of enhanced sanctions--China and Rus- sia-to join in an IAEA reso- lution blasting Iran for not cooperating. Iran countered ~hat it would build an ad- ditional 10 enrichment sites. Iran's actions whittled J Strreet Trita Parsi (second from left), the director of the National Iranian American Council, shown at a panel on lran in Washington on Oct. 26, says the Iranian government's behavior in recent weeks is behind the accelerated pace of a U.S. sanctions bill. away the reluctance of IRPSA legislation pass the a number of key playersHouse, it has the potential to who had worried that new seriouslyimpacttheIranian sanctions would pre-empt economy. The prospect of Obama's efforts to resolve the sanctions in this bill and "Rather than 'empower- ing' the President with ad- ditional authority," as the bill promises, Americans for Peace Now said in a let- Steve Clemons, a senior analyst at the liberal New America Foundation, said such posturing plays into the hands of a regime ea- g OQ a measure now seems in recent 9 the crisis through direct talks with Tehran--chief among them the presi- dent himself, who is now considered likely to sign a sanctions bill. It was Obama who dis- patched his most prominent Iran hawk, Dennis Ross, and Jeffrey Bader, both senior staffers on the National Security Council, to China in late October to make the case for signing on to the IAEA resolution. Ross' argu- ment reportedly was simple but effective: Help contain Iran, or we won't be able to contain Israel. Another domino to drop was U.S. Rep. Howard Ber- man (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House of Representa- tives Foreign Affairs Com- mittee. He not only lifted his hold on the proposed House legislation, but now is fast tracking it for a vote. There are similar plans in the Sen- ate, although they may be delayed past the Christmas break because of the vexed health care debate. In the Jewish community, tougher sanctions have been pushed for at least a decade by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and, more recently, by other centrist, established pro- Israel organizations. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a politically and denominationally di- verse umbrella organization consisting of more than 50 groups, issued a statement over the weekend urging both chambers of Congress to pass sanctions legisla- tion by the end of the year if possible. "The timing for this vote is especially significant," said Presidents Conference chairman Alan Solow and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein in the statement. "Should the the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House in Octo- ber, are essential to pressing Iran, the leading violator of human rights and state sponsor of terrorism glob- ally, against pursuing a nuclear weapons capacity." Signaling just how wide- spread Jewish organiza- tional support is for the sanctions, they now have the support of J Street, a lob- bying group that generally advocates for stepped-up U.S. diplomacy rather than confrontation. For months, J Street has said it backed the sanctions in principle but opposed pushing them forward while engagement was under way. But on Dec. 7 the group is- sued a statement expressing support for the congressio- nal measures, citing "Iran's continued defiance of the international community and its rejection of the most recent diplomatic offer on nuclear enrichment." "We're not jumping for joy for supporting this legisla- tion," said Hadar Susskind, J Street's political director. "Iran has showed itself to be a bad actor." The legislation, Susskind said, "is not perfect, it doesn't resolve every problem, but it shows Iran that the United States and other nations are serious about this." One pro-Israel group remains actively opposed: Americans For Peace Now says the sanctions would backfire by turning Irani- ans toward a regime now fending off accusations of illegitimacy. The group is lobbying Congress to loosen the leg- islation's restrictions on the president's ability to waive the sanctions--saying that tying his hands undermines their usefulness as a diplo- matic stick. ter to House members, "HR 2194 would sharply limit his authority regarding both existing sanctions and potential new ones." ger to blare its nationalist credentials in the wake of a summer of protests that undermined its credibility. "They are trying to cre- ate external crises to con- solidate internal power," he said. "We shouldn't help them." Parsi said rushing for- ward the unilateral U.S. sanctions would undercut efforts by Obama to sign on the international com- munity to multilateral sanctions by early next year, adding that unilateral sanc- tions might have the effect of alienating Russia, China and key European nations by targeting major companies in those nations. "Are you going to have a bomb by Christmas Eve?" Parsi asked, referring to the accelerated congressional schedule. "You don't want to give the impression that people are dying to go for sanctions because that casts the diplomacy in doubt." Underscoring the sink- ing standing of the Iranian regime, Parsi's organization blasted the Obama admin- istration last week for not making human rights as much a priority as nuclear weapons. "Iran's human rights abuses must be addressed now and not just when our focus turns to punitive measures," he wrote in a column on the Huffington Post blog. "Otherwise, the adminis- tration will unintentionally signal that the rights of the Iranian people are used solely as a pressure tactic against Iran when it fails to compromise on other issues."