In a letter to supporters on Friday, AIPAC President Michael Kassen clarified the group’s position on the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, currently awaiting a Senate vote. The statement follows AIPAC’s sharp about turn on Thursday calling for a vote on the bill to be delayed after lobbying hard for it.
In the communique, Kassen said that AIPAC’s position had been mischaracterized in the press and that the lobby has not abandoned its support for the bill.
Following a speech by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on Thursday, calling on both sides of the Iran sanctions debate to soften their positions, AIPAC said, “We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”
Last November, when details of an interim deal between Iran and world powers were first revealed, AIPAC and other Jewish groups criticized the agreement as giving up too much for too little, and vowed to push hard in Congress for new sanctions.
The Obama administration strongly opposed the effort, leaning on lawmakers to tow its line. In his “State of the Union” address last Tuesday, Obama said, “Let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.”
On Monday, The New York Times claimed that AIPAC’s influence in the Senate had been “blunted,” pointing to slow progress with the bill.
Earlier Friday, in an email to supporters, the Republican Jewish Coalition claimed that the Obama Administration “enlisted Democratic members of non-partisan pro-Israel organizations to work from within to undermine the push” for the bill.
The full text of Kassen’s statement is posted below:
I am writing today to correct some mischaracterizations in the press regarding our position on the Senate Iran bill. Some have suggested that by not calling for an immediate vote on the legislation, we have abandoned our support for the bill. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, we remain strongly committed to the passage of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. This legislation is one important part of a broad strategy that we have pursued over many years to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. As negotiations for a final agreement with Iran begin, we must—and will—continue our efforts on every front to ensure that any deal with Iran guarantees the dismantlement of its nuclear infrastructure and blocks its path to a bomb.
Yesterday, Senator Menendez—who along with Senator Kirk is the lead sponsor of the legislation—delivered a forceful speech on the Senate floor, in which he outlined what such a deal must include. In response, we issued a statement applauding Chairman Menendez’s leadership. We strongly support his assessment of the threat, his commitment to the critical role Congress must play, and his path to passage of the legislation, which includes building broad bipartisan support.
I want to thank you for your hard work thus far in earning the support of 59 senators for the Menendez-Kirk bill. We still have much work to do over the coming months. It will be a long struggle, but one that we are committed to fighting.
We will continue to work closely with friends on both sides of the aisle, in both the House and Senate, to ensure that everything is done to prevent a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.