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(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran is expected to dominate the policy agenda of the 5,500 AIPAC members who are coming here to lobby elected officials during the organization's annual three-day conference, which starts Sunday.
In some 500 meetings with members of Congress or their staffs, AIPAC activists from around the country will be pushing for the passage of new legislation tightening US sanctions on Iran in an effort to thwart its nuclear program.
The bill, sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos of California, would expand the types of investment subject to sanctions, eliminate the president's ability to waive sanctions for foreign oil companies and end all imports from Iran, among other measures.
The activists will also be seeking support for two letters - one circulating among senators to be sent to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the other drafted by representatives for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana - holding a firm line against the new Palestinian unity government.
Both letters call for the continued suspension of aid to the Palestinian Authority so long as the planned Hamas-Fatah government fails to adhere to the three international demands of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous agreements.
But the letter to Rice also urges "no contacts with any members of a Palestinian Authority" that does not meet these conditions. Some critics of the letter said it would seem to include figures such as PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Washington favorite Salaam Fayad, expected to be the new finance minister, whom the US has not shunned. Others disagree, saying the letter simply affirms the current US approach, which is to have no contact with the Hamas officials who now compose the PA government.
The Iranian threat and Palestinian politics will be addressed in many of the informational sessions and lectures at the AIPAC conference.
The event will include speeches by many leading American and Israel figures. US Vice President Dick Cheney will address the conference, as will the four Congressional leaders, Democrats House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, as well as Republicans House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Several other senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle will also give presentations.
"While partisanship is at high tide in Washington, the issue of US support for Israel is one issue where Democrats and Republicans all come together, and that's exemplified by the conference," said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, Ambassador to Washington Sallai Meridor and Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman will all appear before the conference. Defense Minister Amir Peretz will also attend, though he isn't scheduled to deliver a speech.â€¢