Pro-Israel group pushes tough U.S. policy on Iran
Wed Jun 7, 2006
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the Bush administration pursues sensitive diplomacy, the influential U.S. pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC has sent out a fundraising letter seeking support for a tough U.S. line against Iran's nuclear program.
In a letter to supporters this week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee requested contributions to build support for a proposed law tightening U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Meanwhile, President George W. Bush is backing a new diplomatic initiative offering incentives to Iran, including the prospect of direct talks and economic benefits, as an inducement to end its nuclear program.
The package, agreed by Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany as well as the United States, also outlines penalties if Iran rejects the deal.
It was formally presented to Iranian officials in Tehran on Tuesday. Many American and European officials are doubtful that Tehran will accept any deal but see the overture as diplomacy's best chance.
AIPAC, with about 100,000 members, has for years considered Iran and its nuclear program the most serious threat to U.S. ally Israel and sought to ensure a tough American policy.
"Iran's apocalyptic president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) has openly and repeatedly called for Israel's destruction. But long before he began making headlines ... AIPAC was working behind-the-scenes to educate leaders throughout the U.S. government about the growing Iranian threat," the fundraising letter states.
"While many organizations now realize the threat that Iran poses, AIPAC is the only organization uniquely positioned to work with (the U.S.) Congress and the administration to take meaningful action against this terrorist regime," it said.
The letter added, "we need your help to stop Iran" and to pass the Iran Freedom Support Act.
The act, which was overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and has considerable support in the Senate, would tighten sanctions on Iran, urge disinvestment from companies investing in its oil sector and support assistance for democratic forces inside Iran.
An AIPAC official said the letter's timing was not connected to the major powers' offer and its message essentially mirrored long-standing AIPAC policy.
AIPAC has not formally endorsed the U.S. decision to back the major powers' offer to Iran.
AIPAC spokesman Josh Block said: "If Iran fulfills the demands of the international community ... by immediately stopping all of its work on the nuclear fuel cycle and allowing inspectors unfettered access, that would be a positive development."
But he added: "We must remain cautious and aware of Iran's two decade history of deception and delay, and not allow the offer of dialogue to devolve into a time-wasting exercise."
The United States and its partners believe Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons but Tehran insists its activities are only aimed at generating civilian energy.