WASHINGTON – Israel is actively lobbying the US Congress to pass new sanctions legislation against Iran despite objections from the Obama administration, with Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett making the prime minister’s case in both chambers on Capitol Hill.
“We’re bringing information and our point of view to the Hill and to the legislators,” Bennett told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “What we’re learning is there’s a shared goal, if perhaps a difference in the tactics.”
Bennett’s visit has complicated efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry over recent days to delay new sanctions, which the Senate Banking Committee is considering just a week before a third round of negotiations in Geneva between world powers and Iran. Sources on Capitol Hill told the Post that Kerry voiced concerns over Bennett’s lobbying effort in a closed-door briefing with key senators on Wednesday afternoon.
“The only way they’ll dismantle their program is if they understand it’s an either-or situation,” Bennett said. “Either they retain their program or their regime survives."
“I don’t think that by relaxing sanctions, you’ll be strengthening sanctions. That contradicts itself,” he added.
“Does anyone think that half a year from now, the West will have more leverage by easing the sanctions?” Speaking to the Israel Allies Foundation in the Library of Congress on Thursday, Bennett told a crowd of congressmen that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is “no Gorbachev,” casting skepticism on his ability or interest in cutting a meaningful deal over Iran’s nuclear program.
“I think we’re at the last point where we still have major leverage, and I’m absolutely convinced that if we ratchet up the pressure, they’ll have to give up the entire program,” he said. “The bad deal is to click the pause button.”
Bennett warned the group of legislators of Iran’s growing intercontinental ballistic missile capability, saying that “nuclear missiles” on Rome, New York and other major Western capitals could be avoided if lawmakers act “with conviction” in the next several days.
At the luncheon with Bennett, which included parliamentarians from allied nations, a letter was circulated pushing for continued pressure on the Islamic Republic.
The international group was asked to sign the letter in their seats.