Senators pressure Obama on Iran sanctions

Senators pressure Obama on Iran sanctions

There was some strong pushback at Monday night’s AIPAC gala against the Obama administration’s call for further patience in waiting for the U.N. Security Council to enact a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. But it didn’t come from the Israeli side or the lobbying group itself: it came from two senior U.S. senators.

Senate leadership member Charles Schumer, D-NY, and moderate Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, both passionately pledged to push this week for action on the Iran sanctions legislation currently awaiting a House-Senate conference. They directly contradicted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s call for more time to allow the U.N. process to play out, a plea she made in remarks to the same group earlier in the day.

Comparing a delay in confronting Iran’s nuclear program with the WWII-era appeasement of Adolf Hitler, Schumer said there was no choice but to move forward with new Iran sanctions now.

"Diplomatic efforts have failed. We are too close (to a nuclear Iran) to simply continue those efforts," said Schumer. "The U.S. must hit Iran first, on our own, with unilateral sanctions, no matter what the other nations of the world do. And we cannot wait, we must push those sanctions now … we cannot afford to wait for Russia or China."

Schumer’s comments showed some daylight between the New York senator and the administration on the issue of banning the export of petroleum products to Iran. Schumer is for it, but administration officials say they want to focus on sanctions that target the regime, not the population.

Clinton counseled patience in her AIPAC speech Monday morning. "We are now working with our partners in the United Nations on new Security Council sanctions that will show Iran’s leaders that there are real consequences for their intransigence," she said. "It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts."

Schumer and Graham will send a letter to Obama this week demanding he implement the new sanctions bill as soon as it gets to his desk. In his speech, Graham also said the U.N. process was going too slowly.

"Russia and China are AWOL when it comes to Iran," he said. "Time is not on our side."

Graham also directly contradicted Clinton’s message on settlements, where she said that the status of Jerusalem was an issue subject to "good faith negotiations."

"Jerusalem is not a settlement. No government in Israel will ever look at Jerusalem as a settlement. And no government of the United States should ever look at Jerusalem as a settlement," Graham said to raucous applause. "It’s the undivided capital of the state of Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed Graham’s sentiments only minutes later.

"Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital," he said. "Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."

Both senators told the 7,000 assembled AIPAC members to push for immediate action on Iran sanctions when they flood Capitol Hill Tuesday to lobby their representatives, and AIPAC officials confirms that this will be the No. 1 talking point for AIPAC in all meetings.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, is said to be trying to help the administration delay a conference by not allowing the House to appoint conferees. Denying that charge, he said recently he wants to get the bill to the President’s desk before May.

Clinton met with Netanyahu at the Mayflower Hotel Monday afternoon. The State Department had been expecting Netanyahu to come to Foggy Bottom for the meeting but the location was changed at the last minute. Israeli sources said that protocol dictated that Netanyahu should choose the meeting place because he still technically outranks Clinton.

But protocol didn’t seem to bother Netanyahu when he traveled to Observatory Circle to sit down for dinner with the Vice President Joseph Biden Monday night. He goes to the White House to see Obama Tuesday afternoon.