Obama AIPAC 311 .
(photo credit: Screenshot)
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama will address the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee’s annual conference in March, the White House announced
His appearance before the country’s largest pro-Israel lobby
comes amid growing international tension with Iran and as the major US political
parties gear up for the 2012 presidential race.
Obama will appear at
AIPAC on March 4 and then meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, himself
coming to Washington to address the conference, the next day at the White
Iran is expected to top the agenda for the leaders’ meeting, which
is indicating it is ready to return to the negotiating table after the
international community, led by the US, has imposed increasingly harsh sanctions
on the regime.
A bipartisan group of senators called on Obama Tuesday to
continue to ratchet up sanctions on Iran despite its apparent willingness to
“We would strongly oppose any proposal that caps or limits
sanctions against the Iranian regime in exchange for anything less than full,
verifiable and sustained suspension of all enrichment activities,” stated a
letter written by New York Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand,
Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Republican John McCain of Arizona, and
eight other senators.
Alluding to fears the Iranians will buy time by
drawing out negotiations, they added, “The time for confidence-building measures
Both the senators and the White House have attributed the new
willingness to negotiate to the harsh international sanctions that have harmed
At the same time, Iran’s nuclear program hasn’t slowed
down, and Israel has expressed increasing urgency about the need for strong
steps before the window for action closes, raising tensions with the US over
whether Jerusalem intends to launch a military strike.
The letter also
put down lines for what type of deal would be acceptable.
current Iranian regime’s pattern of deceptive and illicit conduct, it cannot be
permitted to maintain any enrichment or reprocessing activities on its territory
for the foreseeable future,” they wrote.
Other members of Congress,
however, are concerned about creating an environment that would lead to a
military conflict, and sent their own letter to Obama stressing the importance
“As tension with Iran continues to escalate, we urge your
administration to utilize all available tools of diplomacy to resolve the crisis
over Iran’s nuclear program and prevent another costly war in the Middle East,”
said the letter, co-authored by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and
Walter Jones (R-North Carolina).
“While we acknowledge that progress will be
difficult, we believe that robust, sustained diplomacy is the best option to
resolve our serous concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill have criticized the Obama administration for cutting
funds to joint US-Israel missile defense at a time when Israel is under growing
threat from Iran. The new 2013 budget proposal requests $99.8 million in missile
defense funding, down from $106.1m. in 2012.
Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta, however, is pushing back against the attacks in a letter now
circulating in Congress.
In the letter, Panetta pointed to the record
$3.1 billion in military assistance Israel would get in the 2013 budget request
under the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the two country. In
addition, he noted, the US expends additional amounts on operating missile
defense capabilities that protect Israel but are not specified in those sections
of the budget.
“Based upon our continued high-level security dialogue
with key Israeli defense and intelligence officials, the president has requested
unprecedented support for Israel,” Panetta wrote. “We remain fully committed to
ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.”