Iran sanctions figure large in AIPAC lobbying.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
s 7,500 AIPAC activists ascend-
ed Capitol Hill this week, they
pushed a multifaceted agenda
with a clear bottom line: It's the sanctions.
Some new wrinkles in the lobbying
blitz that traditionally follows the annual
American Israel Public Affairs Committee
policy forum deal with the role of Arab
nations in advancing Israel-Arab peace
and with securing a pledged increase in
U.S. assistance to Israel.
But the most dramatic advance is in
a proposal to cut off refined petroleum
exports to Iran, hitting 40 percent of that
country's gas market.
AIPAC has led the way since the mid-
1990s in advocating for sanctions aimed
at crippling the Iranian economy until
the Islamic Republic ends its suspected
nuclear weapons program. In recent years,
the notion of sanctioning Iran has gained
traction, with the U.N. Security Council
imposing three sets of sanctions in the
past 18 months.
Still, the sanctions have apparently had
little effect: U.N. nuclear weapons inspec-
tors last month delivered a blistering
report saying that Iran was taking steps
to hide its weapons program. In addition,
inspectors say they have evidence suggest-
ing that some elements of the Iranian pro-
gram were military and not peaceful — in
sharp contrast to Tehran's claims.
After two days of sessions heavily
weighted toward considering the possibil-
ity of a nuclear threat, 5,000 of the activ-
ists headed to 500 meetings on the Hill
armed with talking points for a bill that
has languished in the U.S. Senate since it
passed overwhelmingly in the House of
Representatives last year.
The Iran Counter Proliferation Act
would expand existing sanctions by hit-
ting companies and nations that deal with
Iran's energy sector. It also would cut off
Iran entirely from the U.S. finance system.
Bolstering that bill is a nonbinding reso-
lution put forward last week by U.S. Reps.
Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., and Mike Pence,
R-Ind. The resolution urges President
Bush to immediately impose some of the
sanctions in the Counter Proliferation Act
and adds the new proposal: Cut off the
export of refined petroleum to Iran.
"Despite sitting on some of the largest
oil reserves in the world, Iran has been
forced to import 40 percent of its refined
petroleum — gasoline and diesel —
because of a lack of investment in its oil
refining infrastructure states the memo
prepared for AIPAC activists.
"Limiting Iran's ability to import gaso-
line will severely impact Iran's economy
and could lead to dramatically greater
domestic pressure on the regime to change
The language of the congressional reso-
lution is sensitive to the political realities
of a presidential campaign that has made
the possibility of war against Iran a parti-
san issue: It explicitly counts out military
action — a point hammered home in the
AIPAC talking points.
"The resolution specifically states that
nothing in the resolution shall be con-
strued to be an authorization for military
action," the sheet says. "In fact, the sanc-
tions called for in H. Con. Res. 362 are the
best way to prevent Iran from acquiring
a nuclear capability by avoiding military
Additionally, the action part of the reso-
lution opens by declaring "that preventing
Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons
capability, through all appropriate eco-
nomic, political and diplomatic means is
vital to the national security interests of
the United States and must be dealt with
Notably absent from AIPAC's talking
points is any mention of military force
— a prospect that spooks Democrats
and would discomfit an organization that
prides itself on its bipartisanship.
The proposal falls just shy of reported
suggestions from Israel's government that
the United States and Britain blockade
Iran's ports to keep out refined petroleum.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
reportedly brought up the proposal in con-
versations last month with U.S.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House
speaker. Olmert and Pelosi addressed the
AIPAC in its talking points is generally
careful to hew to areas where Democrats
and Republicans agree when it comes to
Iran. However, some of the language would
appear to clash with specific policies asso-
ciated with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama,
the likely Democratic presidential nomi-
nee who also addressed the conference.
"Entering into a dialogue before Iran
has complied with U.N. resolutions and
suspended its uranium enrichment could
undermine Security Council decisions
and allow Tehran to use the dialogue as a
way to continue advancing its nuclear pro-
gram," the AIPAC memo states. "Iran used
previous talks with the European Union to
make significant advances in its nuclear
program while staving off international
That hardly jibes with Obama's support
for dialogue backed up by what he calls
Furthermore, in conference literature
AIPAC proudly touts support in both the
House and Senate for language declaring
the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a
Obama was not present for that vote,
but said he would would have opposed
the measure, a position favored by many
liberal Democratic activists. Obama's
main Democratic rival in the primaries,
U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.,
backed the language.
Also on the lobbying agenda was Bush's
proposal to increase U.S. assistance to
Israel from an average of $2.4 billion to $3
billion annually. Letters circulating in both
chambers of Congress urge the president
to continue his efforts to advance the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The letters, initiated in the House by
its leaders, and in the Senate by Mary
Landrieu, R-La., and Susan Collins, R-
Maine, do not mention recent backing by
Bush and Congress for increased U.S. finan-
cial and political support for Palestinian
moderates. Instead they decry the alleged
lack of such support from Arab nations.
"We anticipated more from nations that
have claimed reaching such an agreement
is one of their top priorities:' the letters
say. "We struggle to understand why those
Arab states that are flush with oil revenues
cannot provide meaningful financial assis-
tance to the Palestinian Authority"
The emphasis underscores a tone
throughout AIPAC's materials that sug-
gested a skepticism about the peace pro-
cess. The talking points pose a question:
"Can a peace agreement still be reached
Its answer is hardly committal: "Israel
and the Palestinians have both made
clear that any agreement reached will be
subject to the implementation of the first
phase of the 'road map.' In Israeli eyes,
this must include an end to violence and
the dismantling of the terrorist infra-
Rice Pushes For Palestinian State
U S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, at the
annual AIPAC policy conference
Tuesday, stressed the urgency of establish-
ing a Palestinian state.
"The expansion of violence in the Middle
East makes the establishment of a peaceful
Palestinian state more urgent, not less',' she
said at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee conference in Washington, D.C.
June 5 • 2008
The conference ran June 2-4.
"The present opportunity is not per-
fect by any means, but it is better than
any other in recent years and we need to
seize it, " Rice said. "Israelis have waited
too long for the security they desire and
deserve, and Palestinians have waited too
long amidst daily humiliations for the dig-
nity of a Palestinian state!'
Rice's remarks were greeted with
silence. AIPAC has been among the lead-
ing skeptics of the current Palestinian
leadership's abilities to control terrorism
should a state be established.
Rice also said the Palestinian track
should take pre-eminence over recently
renewed Israel-Syria talks.
"We do appreciate the effort that our
ally Turkey is making toward a peace
between Israel and Syria," she said.
"The key is to pursuing all paths to
peace while maintaining focus on the
Palestinian track because it is the most
Rice addresses AIPAC delegates.