PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 2 (JTA) — Dick Cheney, the Republican nominee for vice president, is at odds with the Jewish community over sanctions against Iran.
Containing Iran has been a top priority for the organized Jewish community, which cites Iran’s record as a major sponsor of terrorism and a potential nuclear threat to Israel and the world.
When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, was at the forefront of a successful lobbying effort to pass the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act in 1996, one of its chief opponents was Cheney, then the chief executive officer of an international oil company.
The law calls for punitive trade measures against foreign companies and countries that invest in Iran’s energy sector. American companies are already banned from doing business in Iran because of its place on the State Department’s annual list of sponsors of terrorism.
Cheney has opposed sanctions as an effective foreign policy tool since his days in Congress. But as head of Halliburton since the mid-1990s, he became an active lobbyist for lifting most unilateral sanctions.
Jewish officials are downplaying Cheney’s position, suggesting that his views as vice president would be different from when he was an oil executive.
But Cheney, who was to be crowned as the vice presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention here on Wednesday, suggested this week that might not be the case.
In an interview with “Meet the Press” on Sunday, after he had been nominated to run with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, he said he has called for the lifting of unilateral economic sanctions against Iran and Libya because “I believe they don’t work.”
He said that while he supports multilateral sanctions, like the kind enforced on Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, unilateral sanctions only “keep American firms out of those areas, but it hasn’t done anything to change the behavior or the conduct of the country as well.”
He said he advocated that position as CEO of Haliburton because his obligation was to “my shareholders and my employees and my customers.”
But when asked what his stance as vice president would be, he said that he would support Bush’s position, which is that it is premature to lift those sanctions, but he added: “I might go in and argue a different point of view with him, but I’ll do it privately.”
The Republican Party platform adopted this week does not specifically mention sanctions, but says: “Iran’s record of supporting terrorism, opposing the Middle East peace process, developing weapons of mass destruction and long- range missiles, and its denial of human rights, most recently demonstrated in the trial and conviction of Iranian Jews on unfounded espionage charges, demonstrates that Tehran remains a dangerous threat to the United States and our interests in the region.”
It also says the next Republican administration will “stop making unilateral gestures toward the Iranian government which, to date, have failed to result in a change in Iranian behavior. We will work to convince our friends and allies, most importantly the Europeans, to join us in a firm, common approach toward Iran.”
According to U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Congress has been under pressure to lift the sanctions against Iran from agricultural and other economic interest groups concerned that the sanctions put them at a trade disadvantage.
Most in Congress want to lift the sanctions, Kyl told a meeting sponsored by the American Jewish Committee here this week.
Those Jewish groups working in Washington say their position remains unchanged.
Jason Isaacson, director of the AJCommittee’s Washington office, said, “Those of us who support sanctions are planning a defense.
Sanctions aren’t “always the perfect tool,” he added, “but sometimes they are the only tool.”
Noting that Cheney has said that his thinking has evolved on certain issues, Isaacson said he hopes the vice presidential candidate “would take a fresh look at the utility of sanctions.”