WASHINGTON (JTA) — Top Jewish Democratic senators are pressing AIPAC to back the new START arms reduction treaty with Russia.
Four Jewish groups already back Senate ratification of the treaty as a means of cajoling Russia into isolating Iran. Another has suggested that it could prove helpful, and one group opposes it.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee rarely backs such initiatives publicly, but what’s been notable in this case is that it has not taken a position behind the scenes either.
The treaty is "an opportunity to improve relations with Russia, a nation that has provided considerable support for U.S.-led efforts to pressure Iran," Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wrote AIPAC director Howard Kohr in a letter Tuesday that was obtained and published by Politico. "Last spring, Russia voted in favor of the U.N. Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Iran. This fall, Russian President Medvedev agreed not to fulfill a previously agreed-upon sale of air defense missiles to Iran."
Schumer has ambitions of becoming his party’s leader in the Senate; Levin chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The decision by a handful of GOP senators to block START came after the election, in which the Democrats lost the U.S. House of Representatives to the Republicans.
The Obama administration noted that the treaty had been approved in committee, with GOP support, and accused the party of political gamesmanship.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, has blasted the GOP senators for blocking it, saying it undercuts his dealings with his Russian counterparts.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who has led the opposition, says that upon review the treaty lacks sufficient verification mechanisms and would unnecessarily reduce the U.S. profile in Europe.
The White House reportedly has pressured Jewish groups into lobbying for the treaty.
The Anti-Defamation League, the American Council on World Jewry, the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street have backed ratification. B’nai B’rith International has said it would be worthwhile if it helps isolate Iran.
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs on Monday vigorously opposed it, saying "there is no reason why the United States should be required to sacrifice its own defense capabilities to inspire Russia to a greater degree of diplomatic fortitude. If Russia is indeed concerned with a nuclear-armed Iran to its immediate south, it should need no extra incentive to take the action necessary to stop it."
President Obama on Tuesday met with Republican senators, and after the meeting a number of the GOP senators said they were shifting toward some support.