White House Defends Diplomacy with Iran to Jewish Groups, Congress

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) is shown in a June 12 file photo. He is among the House lawmakers pushing for the Senate to weigh legislation expanding sanctions against Iran (Mark Wilson/Getty Images).
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) is shown in a June 12 file photo. He is among the House lawmakers pushing for the Senate to weigh legislation expanding sanctions against Iran (Mark Wilson/Getty Images).

The Obama administration briefed concerned Jewish leaders about its negotiations on Iran's controversial nuclear program on Tuesday, as U.S. lawmakers seeking stronger action against Tehran continued to mull legislation on increasing sanctions, according to the Associated Press.

The White House's National Security Council said senior officials told pro-Israeli and Jewish groups -- including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful lobbying group -- that the United States will not cease insisting that Iran be prohibited from developing nuclear weapons.

The officials maintained, though, that the administration stands by its plans to resolve the matter with diplomacy, not by increasing punitive measures against Iran. Administration and Jewish leaders described the hastily organized briefing as "productive," the Jewish Daily Forward reported.

"We had a constructive and open exchange and agreed to continue the consultation to enhance the prospect of achieving a transparent and effective diplomatic resolution," the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a Tuesday night statement. "We welcome the reaffirmation of the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capability and that all options remain viable to assure that end."

The meeting came a day after President Obama talked by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been critical of the Obama administration’s desire to engage with Iran. He and other Jewish leaders support having strong economic sanctions against Iran, which insists its nuclear program is not geared toward weapons development, as other nations fear.

Frustrated House lawmakers on Wednesday, meanwhile, are pressing their Senate counterparts to agree to expand existing sanctions against Iran, the Hill newspaper reported. The administration has been lobbying to delay any such action, as high-level nuclear negotiations are under way between Iran and the so-called "P-5+1" -- United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany. Technical experts from the seven nations are meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in Vienna in preparation for resumed talks between senior diplomats in Geneva on Nov. 7 and 8.

The House of Representatives passed legislation in July that would expand economic constraints on non-U.S. companies doing business with Iran, and the Senate Banking Committee has crafted a similar Iran-sanctions bill.

Leaders of the Republican-led House are disappointed that the Democrat-run Senate committee has not acted yet this week to mark up its sanctions measure, as it had been expected to do. Senators on the committee want to wait to act on that legislation until Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew brief them on Thursday, a Senate aide told the Hill.

“It is critical for the Senate to pass legislation to increase economic pressure on Iran,” said Representative Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Existing sanctions have forced Tehran to the negotiating table, and we should be building more pressure instead of slowing down.”

October 30, 2013
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The Obama administration briefed concerned Jewish leaders about its negotiations on Iran's controversial nuclear program on Tuesday, as U.S. lawmakers seeking stronger action against Tehran continued to mull legislation on increasing sanctions, according to the Associated Press.

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