Obama to address AIPAC annual conference

US president will meet Netanyahu day after speaking to country's largest pro-Israel lobby; Iran expected to be top of the agenda.

Obama AIPAC 311  (photo credit: Screenshot)
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 Tuesday.
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 House.
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 enter talks.
“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 is over.”
Both the senators and the White House have attributed the new willingness to negotiate to the harsh international sanctions that have harmed Iran’s economy.
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.
“Given the 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 of diplomacy.
“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.”
Meanwhile, 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.”