The White House and outside allies are pressuring pro-Israel leaders to tone down their support for new Iran sanctions, ahead of the next round of nuclear talks between world leaders and Iran.
Lawmakers have been meeting with pro-Israel lobbyists as the Senate moves forward on a new round of sanctions legislation that would sharply curtail Iran’s oil sales, a version of which has already been approved by the House.
White House officials hastily convened a meeting with pro-Israel organizations on Tuesday to make the case against additional sanctions, the JTA first reported.
Groups in attendance included the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee.
A pro-Israel official who attended the hour-and-a-half briefing said Tuesday’s exchange was tough and extensive and said White House officials appeared optimistic that they could make progress in the Iran negotiations.
"They made their case and we made our case," said the source, adding that White House officials were "very reassuring" that there would be no relaxing and no limiting of sanctions on Iran in the near term.
"They just don't want the new [sanctions] to come out now," said the attendee. "What they're saying is we need two months to test [the Iranians]."
AIPAC declined to comment on the meeting.
White House allies have also joined the campaign to delay new sanctions.
J Street, a dovish Middle East activist group with close ties to the White House, released a statement on Tuesday that appeared to echo the administration’s talking points at Tuesday’s briefing.
“Moving forward with new sanctions now could severely undermine prospects for a diplomatic solution,” said J Street. “It will create cracks in the international coalition the United States has built to enforce the sanctions. It will provide an excuse for those in Iran who want to resist any deal. And it is unnecessary now, since the sanctions we are implementing have led to extraordinary pressure and remain strongly in place.”
The statement “could have been written by the White House itself because it is almost verbatim what White House officials told Jewish leaders,” said a source familiar with the meeting.
J Street did not return a request for comment.
Democrats in Congress have also drafted legislation that would delay the implementation of new sanctions, the Washington Free Beacon reported Tuesday.
Even as the Obama administration has worked to scuttle additional sanctions behind the scenes, it has credited previous rounds with helping bring Iran to the negotiating table.
A congressional source involved with Iran sanctions said the White House strategy would weaken the U.S.’s hand in nuclear negotiations.
”What the White House would have us believe is that it’s perfectly legitimate for Iran to flout international law and continue illicit behavior during negotiations, as they are, but it’s very provocative for America to respond with additional sanctions during negotiations,” said the official. “That sums up the pathetic nature of our diplomatic posture.”
“It’s almost like we’re the fraternity brother in Animal House, saying ‘thank you sir, may I have another,” he added.
A senior official at a top pro-Israel organization said the pro-Israel community has helped the White House out of several political binds recently and has only received problems in return.
“The White House screwed pro-Israel groups by dragging them into the Syria conflict, then screwed them again by leaving them dangling in the wind, then screwed them a third time by dispatching [Vice President] Joe Biden to speak to [an annual conference hosted by] J Street, a group that has explicitly aligned itself against AIPAC and the mainstream pro-Israel community,” said the official.
“Now the administration is demanding favors, to say nothing of trust,” the official added. “It's no wonder even the president's supporters are frustrated.”