WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama urged Congress not to pass new Iran sanctions as jockeying continued among groups that favor and oppose the sanctions.
“My preference is for peace and diplomacy, and this is one of the reasons why I’ve sent a message to Congress that now is not the time for us to impose new sanctions,” Obama said at the White House on Monday, a day after Iran and major powers agreed on the terms of an interim six-month agreement that would lead to a final status deal preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“Now is the time for us to allow the diplomats and technical experts to do their work,” Obama said. “We will be able to monitor and verify whether or not the interim agreement is being followed through on, and if it is not, we’ll be in a strong position to respond.”
The administration continues to implement existing sanctions. David Cohen, the Treasury undersecretary charged with administering the sanctions, is traveling this week to Italy and Austria to monitor enforcement in those countries.
Supporters of the new sanctions say they would not violate the terms of the agreement with Iran because they would only be triggered should Iran renege.
The interim agreement offers Iran partial sanctions relief in exchange for a partial rollback of its nuclear program.
The new sanctions, strongly backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and some other Jewish groups, have the explicit backing of 59 senators — short of the 67 needed to vitiate Obama’s promised veto.
Opponents of the sanctions are touting the opposition of a number of leading pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate, including Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Five left-leaning Jewish groups were among 62 organizations that signed a letter this week urging the U.S. Senate not to pass new sanctions, among them, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.
A group backing sanctions, the Foreign Policy Initiative, has a letter signed by a number of hawkish foreign policy figures, including some preeminent in the Jewish community, among these Josh Block, who directs the Israel Project, and Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, and John Podhoretz, who edits Commentary.
Each side rushes to inform reporters about supposed defections from the other side; Jeffrey Goldberg, an Bloomberg columnist influential among Jewish leaders and an Iran hawk this week said he opposed sanctions, while Robert Gates, the former defense secretary under Bush and Obama known for his cautious approach to engagement overseas, said he backs them.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip in the Senate, cautioned the White House to curb its rhetoric against Democrats who favor the new sanctions.
“There have been some that have suggested in the White House that those folks were more interested in war than they were in the resolution by peaceful means,” Politico quoted Hoyer as saying Tuesday. “I think that is absolutely untrue, [an] irresponsible assertion, and ought to be clarified and retracted by those who have made it within the administration.”