Iran's backtracking on a nuclear deal worked out with world powers has made unilateral US sanctions more likely, a top US congressman told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
"While it isn't definitive yet, it certainly makes the sanctions route look like the course we're going to have to go down," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman.
Berman has sponsored legislation which would block Iranian refined petroleum imports, among other measures. After holding off for several months with the legislation, Berman's committee recently passed the measure and the chairman promised to push for it to clear the other hurdles in the House. A similar measure has also been advancing in the Senate.
Berman spoke to the Post following an appearance at the seventh-annual Jerusalem Conference on Capitol Hill, where he described his measure as "increased unilateral sanctions" that would be the "next step," should diplomacy fail.
He called the prospect of a nuclear Iran "the greatest threat facing the region today," not the Palestinian issue as some have suggested, and said that the US and Israel are coordinating on the issue.
"It is consulting Israel closely every step of the way, and Israel is supportive of the administration's present course," he said.
Berman also defended the Obama administration from critics who have said it was "not a strong defender of Israel."
Stressing his opposition to that claim, Berman underscored the administration's deep commitment to the US-Israel relationship, particularly on security matters, and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He began his remarks by referring to himself as a "proud Zionist" who endorsed the theme of the conference, "Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital." Berman's appearance at the Jerusalem Conference followed shortly after German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed a special joint session of Congress and declared "zero tolerance" on the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iranian hands.
"Iran knows our offer, but Iran also knows where we draw a line," she told the body. "A nuclear bomb in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel and denies Israel the right to exist is not acceptable."
Her address, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall, also noted the history of Jewish persecution, and she recognized a Holocaust survivor in the audience during her speech.
Merkel's words were well received by members of Congress, who gave standing ovations for her words on Iran and warm comments on Israel.
But not everyone in the audience was pleased with her.
"It's appalling that Chancellor Merkel could stand in front of a standing ovation at a joint session of Congress while she mouths the words of stopping the Iranian threat, all the while German companies are reaping the profits of doing business with Iran," said Jennifer Mizrahi, who heads the Israel Project.
In a process she described as echoing German companies' complicity in the Holocaust, Mizrahi said: "Unfortunately and tragically, the German policy today is saying the right thing in public, doing the wrong thing in private, and reaping all the profits in the bank."