Thursday, April 30, 2009

AIPAC policy conference to push Iran bills


WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Cherry blossoms have withered off the trees, Easter eggs have rolled off the White House lawn and now it's time for two more Washington springtime perennials: An Iran sanctions bill is about to roll off the congressional presses, and thousands of AIPAC lobbyists are about to tumble out of buses to make sure it passes.

Just in time for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy forum next week, U.S. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) introduced a major new Iran sanctions bill. In addition to Kyl, Bayh and Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, nine other Republicans and 11 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors, Capitol Hill sources said.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and the House leadership is backing a bill that would facilitate divestment from Iran. The latter, modeled on a bill drafted by President Obama as a U.S. senator, is due for consideration this week by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The bills come just weeks after the Democratic House leadership wrote Obama that Iran's nuclear potential "must be dealt with on an urgent basis."


It's no coincidence that the bills, which are strongly backed by AIPAC, are "dropping" into Congress for consideration this week; having 6,000 conference-goers press for their passage next Tuesday is bound to give them a turbo boost.

Thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions has been a principal focus of AIPAC for nearly two decades, and the sense now in Israel is that the Islamic Republic might achieve the capability of producing highly enriched uranium before year's end. The government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, like its predecessors, has made it clear that containing Iran is its top priority.

There had been hopes that Netanyahu would attend the policy conference and meet with Obama the same week. That's not going to happen -- Netanyahu will be represented instead by President Shimon Peres -- in part because of unresolved tensions between the two governments over Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.


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