By Kevin Bogardus - 11/25/13 04:52 PM EST
One of Washington’s most prominent pro-Israel groups expressed concerns Monday about the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
“Tough sanctions legislation passed by Congress and vigorous diplomacy pursued by the administration have brought Iran to negotiations. However, the initial agreement raises many concerns — including implicit acceptance of Iranian enrichment,” AIPAC said.
Israel’s government has adopted a tougher line. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the pact a “historic mistake” and said it has “made the world a much more dangerous place.”
Under the agreement, Iran has committed to scale back parts of its nuclear program, including several steps to create highly enriched uranium. In return, President Obama will grant the country $7 billion in targeted sanctions relief.
AIPAC said Capitol Hill should approve new sanctions if Iran fails to meet its commitments.
“Congress has provided the leverage to spur Iran to seek talks; now it must press the administration to negotiate a verifiable agreement that will prevent Iran from ever building nuclear weapons. Congress must also legislate additional sanctions, so that Iran will face immediate consequences should it renege on its commitments or refuse to negotiate an acceptable final agreement,” AIPAC said.
Congress might push forward on new sanctions against Iran despite Obama’s plea for time.
Lawmakers in both parties have blasted the deal, and in an interview Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate might pass stronger sanctions against Iran.
“When we come back, we’ll take a look at this to see if we need stronger sanctions,” Reid said on "The Diane Rehm Show."
In the three-page memo, AIPAC said parts of the deal are troublesome, such as “allowing Iran to maintain a domestic enrichment capability and its existing nuclear infrastructure.” AIPAC said that “raises serious concerns that Iran will be able to resume nuclear-weapons related activities at will.”
Consequently, Congress “should establish clear consequences — by legislating additional sanctions — should Iran violate this agreement or fail to agree to an acceptable final deal.”
Other pro-Israel groups have also expressed skepticism about the agreement with Iran.
In a statement Sunday, Barry Curtiss-Lusher, the Anti-Defamation League’s national chairman, and Abraham Foxman, the group’s national director, said “Iran’s record of non-compliance makes us skeptical of providing sanctions relief before Iran has taken tangible steps to dismantle its nuclear program.”
Further, new sanctions should be pursued against the Iranian regime while negotiations continue, according to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
“We believe that existing sanctions should remain in place and new sanctions, whose trigger date would not necessarily be immediate, should be pursued to underscore the seriousness of America’s determination — and the consequences of an Iranian failure to act in good faith,” Harris said in a statement.
Other groups, however, want Congress to back off from new sanctions so negotiators can reach a final deal.
“Congress should heed President Obama's call to hold off from enacting new sanctions now so that the international community can test Iran's sincerity and work to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran that will lift the nuclear threat from Israel and the world,” J Street said in a statement.
Business groups have adopted a similar line when it comes to new sanctions against Iran.
“We are urging Congress to do nothing. Wait and see what happens. Be cool,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC).
The deal reached Saturday is not expected to be a boon for U.S. business. The majority of the sanctions regime, including several restrictions on oil and banking, remain intact. Those limits have stopped many companies from entering into the Iranian market.
“If it leads over the six months to a more substantial agreement, that could eventually open some commercial doors. But that is going to be not a result of this current agreement,” Reinsch said.
Under the deal, some restrictions on Iran's autos, petrochemicals, as well as gold and precious metals, will be suspended. Iran stands to benefit the most from the U.S. pledge to help better facilitate humanitarian aid to the country.
Congress has exempted purchases of food and medicine from Iranian sanctions, but the banking restrictions have made it difficult to bring the needed aid into the country.
“The good news of the interim deal is the humanitarian exemption, which is in every piece of congressional legislation dealing with Iran sanctions,” said Richard Sawaya, director of USA*Engage. “But bankers are risk-averse so there has been resistance to financing those transactions. This should clear that up.”
In the past, trade associations have pushed back against efforts on Capitol Hill to impose tighter sanctions on Iran. Along with NFTC and USA*Engage, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others, signed a January 2010 letter that took aim at sanctions legislation, warning the bills could hinder business transactions that have nothing to do with Iran.
Business groups could mount a similar lobbying effort this time as negotiators search for a permanent deal.
“If it looks like there will be a big congressional push for more sanctions against Iran, then yes, we will be more active,” Reinsch said.
This story was updated at 5:40 p.m.
Alexander Bolton contributed to this report.