AIPAC partners to redefine debate on Iran agreement

AIPAC is not calling on Trump to "decertify" Iran's compliance by October 15 – much less to withdraw from the agreement wholesale.

October 9, 2017 21:13
2 minute read.

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference. (photo credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP)

WASHINGTON – Over the last several months, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has played an active role in crafting the Trump administration’s “comprehensive strategy” toward Iran, to be unveiled this week by the president in a speech to the nation, sources close to the discussions tell The Jerusalem Post.

The largest Israel advocacy organization in the US has not specifically advised Donald Trump on strategy, ahead of a deadline imposed on him by Congress to certify Iran’s compliance to its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. But AIPAC – which aggressively fought the deal in 2015 – is lobbying his administration to lay out broad terms for US policy on Iran that treat the nuclear deal as simply one part of a broader approach to the Islamic Republic.

Adamant to maintain bipartisan congressional support, AIPAC is not calling on Trump to “decertify” Iran’s compliance by October 15 – much less to withdraw from the agreement wholesale. It is not lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would be read by international powers as a material breach of the accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

But AIPAC is clear on what remain to them unacceptable terms within the agreement.

Two aspects of the JCPOA must change, one way or another, says its leadership: Its “sunset clauses,” which are caps and limits on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure that expire over the next decade; and its treatment of Iran’s military sites, which AIPAC says are blind spots for international nuclear inspectors.

It does not say how the US should get there.

The president is expected to lay out the administration’s new approach in a speech slated for Thursday.

“Our principal objectives have been and remain preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability and deterring its malign regional behavior,” Marshall Wittmann, spokesman for AIPAC, told the Post.

If Trump “decertifies” the JCPOA this week under US law, the deal will remain technically unaffected and in force. But Congress will enter an expedited, 60-day review period in which it can debate “qualifying legislation” relevant to the nuclear accord – including the reimposition of sanctions, which would threaten the viability of the deal. AIPAC plans to be heavily engaged in that discussion.

But after enduring a bruising in 2015 – when AIPAC lobbied hard against the deal during an up-or-down vote on its merits, in direct conflict with then-president Barack Obama, and lost – its leadership is acutely aware of the importance of consensus.

AIPAC has long believed that its power in Washington is predicated on maintaining bipartisan support; and Iran policy, since the nuclear accord was struck, has been a test of that formula.

Given the partisan divide that remains over the JCPOA, AIPAC plans to approach this upcoming debate with a lighter touch. It will highlight the fact that Iran’s aggressive regional behavior has not abated since the nuclear deal has passed; if anything, it has gotten worse, “emboldened” by the JCPOA and its legitimization as a nuclear threshold state.

One question Congress and AIPAC will have to answer is to what extent they are willing to test the nuclear deal, which allows for nonnuclear sanctions targeting Iran’s human rights record, its support for Islamist organizations region-wide and its ballistic missile program, but not sanctions with respect to its nuclear work.

Some individuals and entities – such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – are involved in both the nuclear program as well as nonnuclear activities of concern to the US government. •

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