AIPAC-Sponsored Briefing Slams Trump Policy on Iran, Advocates Closer Ties to Islamic Republic

Sources express concern over pro-Israel org's relationship with administration

US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal from the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House
Getty Images
November 20, 2017

A policy expert at an off-the-record briefing for Capitol Hill staffers on Monday sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, slammed Trump administration efforts to crack down on Iran and advocated in favor of closer ties with the Islamic Republic, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the conversation.

AIPAC, the country's most prominent pro-Israel organization, sponsored an Iran briefing at its Washington, D.C., headquarters with policy experts Ilan Goldenberg and Michael Singh, according to those familiar with the event.

Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, or CNAS, which backed the Obama administration's nuclear deal, is said to have blasted Trump administration efforts to tighten the landmark nuclear deal and advocated for closer ties with the Islamic Republic, according to those familiar with the briefing.

These sources expressed concern that the nation's foremost pro-Israel policy shop would sponsor such an event, particularly given its past efforts to rally against the nuclear deal.

An AIPAC official, speaking only on background, would not directly comment on Goldenberg's remarks, telling the Washington Free Beacon that, "As with all of our outside speakers, the views expressed are their own."

"This represents no change in our policy whatsoever as expressed in our statement below – this was an off the record briefing and the views of the speakers were their own," the official added.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the off-the-record briefing told the Free Beacon that some were surprised AIPAC would sponsor Goldenberg, who argued in favor of preserving the nuclear deal.

Both Goldenberg and CNAS have long advocated in favor of the former Obama administration's efforts to court Iran and cement the nuclear agreement.

One senior congressional adviser who works closely with lawmakers on foreign policy and has direct knowledge of the Monday morning event told the Free Beacon that AIPAC's decision to host Goldenberg shows that elements of the organization do not support the Trump administration's tougher Iran policy.

"Goldenberg built his profile during the Obama administration by attacking Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu," said the source, who would only speak on background. "He's one of loudest critics of President Trump's Israel and Iran policies."

"AIPAC is supposed to support ties between the U.S. and Israel but instead they're giving a platform to someone who trashes the countries' leaders," the source said. "It shows you what they really think about the importance of their own relationship with Israel and the Trump administration."

A second source, a former U.S. official who has dealt with AIPAC and is familiar with the morning briefing, told the Free Beacon the pro-Israel group is losing its credibility by sponsoring these types of events.

"Rather than push for something real, AIPAC is once again selling American and Israeli national security interests down the river in the name of preserving 'bipartisanship,'" the former U.S. official said.

"It's the same failed strategy that led to the [Iran deal] in the first place and rendered AIPAC all but irrelevant," the source added.

AIPAC had been at the center of controversy in the pro-Israel world over its abandonment of a high-profile congressional effort to pass new Iran sanctions.

The episode is said to have further stoked internal tensions in AIPAC about its direction and leadership.

Update 3:06 p.m.: This post has been updated with further clarification from the AIPAC spokesperson.