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The nation’s leading pro-Israel lobbying group is considering backing new efforts in Congress to pass tighter sanctions on Iran, according to Senate insiders familiar with the issue.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) could put its weight behind an effort to resurrect currently stalled legislation to tighten economic sanctions on Tehran, a move meant to pressure the Obama administration to take a tougher stand in the nuclear talks with Iran.
The sanctions measure originally sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) stalled earlier this year with 59 co-sponsors after the Obama administration launched a full court press to kill the legislation.
AIPAC, which had initially supported the bill, backed off its lobbying bid after Democrats and White House officials expressed opposition to the bill and argued that more time is needed to negotiate with Iran.
Now, with the six-month interim nuclear accord set to expire on July 20, AIPAC and its congressional allies are said to be preparing to breathe new life into the legislation, which just recently garnered its 60th cosponsor, a key procedural threshold.
Asked to comment on the potential lobbying blitz, an AIPAC source told the Washington Free Beacon that “no decisions have been made” on the issue.
However, as negotiations aimed at inking a final deal with Iran languish, the Obama administration is likely to exercise an option to extend the interim accord for another six months.
Frustration within the pro-Israel community over the administration’s failure to adequately pressure Tehran is said to be spurring AIPAC and pro-Israel allies on the Hill to consider rebooting the sanctions bill, according to Senate insiders who spoke to the Free Beacon.
“Everything Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez said would happen is coming to pass,” said one Senate insider familiar with AIPAC’s thinking. “The Senate gave the president a free six months, and now we are in a weaker position than we were six months ago.”
“It makes a lot of sense for senators to say, ‘We let the administration try it their way for six months—now it’s time to do it the way we wanted to in the first place—force the Iranians to negotiate with the threat of future sanctions if they don’t dismantle their nuclear weapons capabilities.’”
AIPAC came under fierce criticism earlier this year after it rescinded support for the sanctions bill, effectively helping the Obama administration kill the legislation.
But with little progress being made in the negotiations between Iran and the West, some feel that new sanctions could provide a needed jolt to negotiators on both sides.
Passage of the bill could also help burnish AIPAC’s lobbying bona fides, which have been called into question in recent months.
“A lot of people think AIPAC has lost its mojo because of how Menendez-Kirk stalled out,” said the Senate insider. “This might be their opportunity to prove the critics wrong.”
The political dynamics surrounding sanctions has shifted in recent weeks.
The bill, which has been on the Senate’s calendar since December, currently has 60 cosponsors, making it much easier for Senate Republicans to advance the legislation without approval from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who has stood in the way of these efforts in the past.
Renewed attention on the bill also would put Senate Democrats in a tough position by forcing them to vote on a bill opposed by the White House just months before critical mid-term elections.