AIPAC-backed letters urge congressional oversight of Iran deal

WASHINGTON (JTA) — American Israel Public Affairs Committee activists asked lawmakers to sign letters to President Obama stressing Congress’ role in shaping a nuclear deal with Iran but not mentioning demands for enhanced sanctions.

“As negotiations progress, we expect your administration will continue to keep Congress regularly apprised of the details,” says the letter AIPAC activists are asking members of the U.S. House of Representatives to sign. AIPAC ended its three-day conference Thursday by sending thousands of activists to Capitol Hill to lobby.

“And, because any long-term sanctions relief will require Congressional action, we urge you to consult closely with us so that we can determine the parameters of such relief in the event an agreement is reached, or, if no agreement is reached or Iran violates the interim agreement, so that we can act swiftly to consider additional sanctions and steps necessary to change Iran’s calculation,” the letter said.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Republican majority leader, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic minority whip, initiated the letter and jointly touted it at AIPAC’s annual conference.

It notably does not include AIPAC’s previous calls for new and enhanced sanctions, something that Democrats and Obama oppose, saying they could scuttle nuclear talks underway between Iran and the major powers.

The House letter also does not include prescriptions for what the outcome of an agreement should look like, which was a feature of legislation AIPAC had backed.

Notably, the letter also has the backing of J Street, the liberal Jewish group that has opposed many of the Iran-related initiatives.

Separately, Cantor, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, made it clear he still backed such prescriptions.

“I believe strongly that any agreement with Iran must require Iran to dismantle existing centrifuge facilities and its heavy water reactor,” he said.

Netanyahu backs dismantling Iran’s entire capacity for enriching uranium, while Obama has suggested that it is likely that a limited capacity will remain in place.

The letter AIPAC activists are asking senators to sign is initiated by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). It includes similar prescriptions for an outcome, but does not renew the call for enhanced sanctions.

Menendez and Kirk had authorized the bill that would have introduced new sanctions.

The AIPAC activists will ask senators to endorse the bill, but will not press for a quick vote. They will also press for passage of a bill that would enhance the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship and that was introduced a year ago, in time for AIPAC’s 2012 policy conference.

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