Big Democratic Donors Urge Congress to Back Off Iran Sanctions

Days before the AIPAC conference, letter could be boon to Obama’s diplomatic efforts.

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (2nd L) speaks as House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (R), and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) (L) listen during a news conference on Capitol Hill September 30, 2010 in Washington, DC. House Democrats held a news conference to discuss their accomplishments in this year's congress. 
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Feb. 27, 2014, 8:54 a.m.

Dozens of ma­jor Demo­crat­ic donors are ur­ging con­gres­sion­al lead­ers to op­pose any new sanc­tions or le­gis­la­tion that could jeop­ard­ize on­go­ing ne­go­ti­ations between world powers and Ir­an.

The let­ter, signed by 82 donors, the ma­jor­ity of them Jew­ish, could be a boon for Pres­id­ent Obama’s dip­lo­mat­ic ef­forts, which res­ul­ted in a con­tro­ver­sial deal that curbed ma­jor as­pects of Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram tem­por­ar­ily as ne­go­ti­ations to reach a per­man­ent deal con­tin­ue.

Obama has prom­ised to veto new sanc­tions, but Re­pub­lic­ans are try­ing any­way to re­vive a sanc­tions bill by Sens. Robert Men­en­dez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., which had 59 co­spon­sors. In the com­ing days, key speak­ers, in­clud­ing Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu, are ex­pec­ted to press Con­gress to keep the fin­an­cial noose tight around Ir­an at a con­fer­ence held by the Amer­ic­an Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, Wash­ing­ton’s best-known pro-Is­rael lobby.

The donors’ let­ter may help weak­en some of that mo­mentum.

“Al­though suc­cess in achiev­ing a fi­nal agree­ment is far from guar­an­teed, Con­gress should al­low these fra­gile ne­go­ti­ations to pro­ceed without mak­ing threats that could de­rail them or ty­ing the hands of the ne­go­ti­at­ors by im­pos­ing un­real­ist­ic terms for a fi­nal agree­ment,” the donors wrote Thursday to seni­or Demo­crats, in­clud­ing Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin, House Demo­crat­ic Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, and House Demo­crat­ic Whip Steny Hoy­er.

Na­tion­al Journ­al pre­vi­ously re­por­ted that dip­lomacy with Ir­an’s new pres­id­ent, Has­san Rouh­ani, and the growth of al­tern­at­ive pro-Is­rael groups make it easi­er for law­makers to op­pose Ir­an sanc­tions than it has been in years past.

The new push from Demo­crat­ic donors — in­clud­ing Ben Co­hen, formerly of Ver­mont-based Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; Vic­tor Kovn­er, a fix­ture in the Demo­crat­ic fun­drais­ing world since the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion; and former Si­erra Club Found­a­tion Pres­id­ent Guy Saper­stein — could go a long way to­ward con­vin­cing Demo­crats that sup­port­ing their pres­id­ent’s in­ter­im agree­ment with Ir­an is a polit­ic­ally ten­able op­tion.

“This is the polit­ic­al cen­ter of grav­ity of the Demo­crat­ic Party telling Con­gress there is no polit­ic­al need to do what the or­gan­iz­a­tions push­ing hawk­ish ac­tions on Ir­an want you to do,” a lob­by­ist ar­guing against new Ir­an sanc­tions said un­der con­di­tion of an­onym­ity.

Prais­ing the agree­ment between six world powers and Ir­an in Novem­ber as a “first step” to­ward a com­pre­hens­ive agree­ment to pre­vent Ir­an from de­vel­op­ing nuc­le­ar weapons, the donors echoed Obama’s State of the Uni­on claims that Ir­an has be­gun to freeze, and roll back, parts of its pro­gram un­der strin­gent in­ter­na­tion­al mon­it­or­ing for the first time in a dec­ade.

The donors in­sist that law­makers should be aware of Ir­an’s threats that new sanc­tions — even if they did not take ef­fect im­me­di­ately — would be seen as a vi­ol­a­tion of the in­ter­im agree­ment and could rup­ture ne­go­ti­ations. “Passing such le­gis­la­tion would likely lead to an im­me­di­ate and sub­stan­tial lessen­ing of eco­nom­ic pres­sure on Ir­an be­cause oth­er coun­tries, like China, Rus­sia, the European Uni­on, Ja­pan, South Korea, In­dia and Tur­key might cease im­ple­ment­ing sanc­tions on the ground that the U.S. had un­der­mined ne­go­ti­ations,” the let­ter said.

Con­gress could al­ways pass new sanc­tions if Ir­an vi­ol­ated the agree­ment, the donors said. However, for their part, Net­an­yahu and pro-Is­rael groups in the U.S. sup­port­ing Is­raeli lead­er­ship on this is­sue want to keep the pres­sure tight dur­ing the in­ter­im deal, which does not fully dis­mantle Tehran’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram.

The donors also take what is sure to be a con­tro­ver­sial stand on urani­um en­rich­ment.

Some mem­bers of Con­gress are in­sist­ing that Ir­an give up en­rich­ing urani­um, even to low levels, which the Is­lam­ic Re­pub­lic has already de­cried as a deal-break­er. Put­ting such a pro­vi­sion in­to law would threaten talks by “ty­ing the hands” of both U.S. ne­go­ti­at­ors and Rouh­ani, “who could not feas­ibly fi­nal­ize a deal that zer­oes out do­mest­ic en­rich­ment,” the let­ter said.

“Like sanc­tions, such a le­gis­lat­ive pois­on pill would only serve to erode the pro­spects for dip­lo­mat­ic suc­cess,” the let­ter con­tin­ued. “Even if con­gres­sion­al ac­tion took the form of a non­bind­ing res­ol­u­tion, or if the pres­id­ent ve­toed such le­gis­la­tion, its ini­tial pas­sage would strengthen the hand of Ir­a­ni­an hard-liners ar­guing against ne­go­ti­ations on the ground that Con­gress will not ac­cept any deal reached at the ne­go­ti­at­ing table.”

Dip­lomacy’s fail­ure now, the donors con­tin­ued, would either lead to mil­it­ary ac­tion or Ir­an get­ting a nuc­le­ar weapon. “We urge you to op­pose risky con­gres­sion­al ac­tion that, if taken, may lead you to wake up the next morn­ing know­ing the res­ult has been to take the dip­lo­mat­ic op­tion off the table,” they wrote.

To see the full let­ter, click here. The com­plete list of donors who signed the let­ter fol­lows:

Na­omi Aberly, Bo­ston, Mass.

Ger­ald H. Ack­er, South­field, Mich.

Ral­ph Alp­ert, Santa Cruz, Cal­if.

Kath­leen C. Barry, Berke­ley, Cal­if.

Marc Baum, New York, N.Y.

Geor­gia Bern­er, Ze­li­enople, Pa.

Dav­id Blair, Dub­lin, N.H.

Le­onore Blitz, New N.Y.

Bob Bowditch, Bo­ston, Mass.

Bob Bur­nett, Berke­ley, Cal­if.

Con­nie Ca­plan, Bal­timore, Md.

Di­ana Shaw Clark, Lon­don, UK

Si­mon Clark, Lon­don, UK

Ben Co­hen, Bur­l­ing­ton, Vt.

Steven H. Co­hen, Chica­go, Ill.

Su­z­anne F. Co­hen, Bal­timore, Md.

Gary Collins, Port­land, Conn.

Pi­l­ar Crespi, Robert, N.Y.

Steph­en Dav­is, Cam­bridge, Mass.

Laurie Dewey, Lin­coln, Mass.

Kirk Dorn­bush, At­lanta, Ga.

An­drew Faulk, San Fran­cisco, Cal­if.

Chris Find­later, Miami, Fla.

Fath­ali Ghahre­mani, New York, N.Y.

Mor­ton Halper­in, Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Mar­tin Hell­man, Stan­ford, Cal­if.

Lawrence Hess, San Diego, Cal­if.

Su­z­anne Hess, San Diego, Cal­if.

Arnold Hi­att, Bo­ston, Mass.

Daniel So­lomon, Beth­esda, Md.

Amb. (ret.) Alan D. So­lomont, We­st­on, Mass.

Marc R. Stan­ley, Dal­las, Texas

Al­ex­an­dra Stan­ton, New York, N.Y.

Mary Ann Stein, Beth­esda, Md.

Robert Stein, Berkley, Cal­if.

Faye Straus, La­fay­ette, Cal­if.

Car­o­lyn Sum­mers, Hast­ings-on-Hud­son, N.Y.

Amb. (ret.) Louis B. Sus­man, Chica­go, Ill.

Ritch­ie Tabach­nick, Carne­gie, Pa.

Marge Tabankin, Mar­ina Del Rey, Cal­if.

Valer­ie Tarico, Seattle, Wash.

Lester S. Hy­man, Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Frank Jernigan, San Fran­cisco, Cal­if.

Wayne Jordan, Oak­land, Cal­if.

Amb. (ret.) Samuel L. Ka­plan, Min­neapol­is, Minn.

Sylvia Ka­plan, Min­neapol­is, Minn.

Sarah Kovn­er, New York, N.Y.

Vic­tor Kovn­er, New York, N.Y.

Janet Kran­zberg, Berke­ley, Cal­if.

Betsy Krieger, Bal­timore, Md.

Ira Lech­ner, Escon­dida, Cal­if.

Stephanie Low, New York, N.Y.

Priscilla Mc­Mil­lan, Cam­bridge, Mass.

Ro­ger Mil­liken, Cum­ber­land, Maine

Holly Mosh­er, Venice, Cal­if.

Ed­ward J. Nal­ban­tian, Lon­don, UK

Re­becca New­man, Irvine, Cal­if.

Ri­ley New­man, Irvine, Cal­if.

Sandy New­man, Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Ar­thur Ober­may­er, West New­ton, Mass.

Zach Po­lett, Little Rock, Ar­iz.

Elean­or Rav­elle, Evan­ston, Ill.

Wil­li­am Rev­elle, Evan­ston, Ill.

Steph­en Robert, New York, N.Y.

Charles Rodgers, Bo­ston, Mass.

Mar­jor­ie Roswell, Bal­timore, Md.

Guy Saper­stein, Pied­mont, Cal­if.

Deb Saw­yer, Salt Lake City, Utah

John Schram, San Fran­cisco, Cal­if.

Wil­li­am S. Sing­er, Chica­go, Ill.

Mi­chael Thornton, Bo­ston, Mass.

James A. Tor­rey, New York, N.Y.

Phil­ippe Villers, Bo­ston, Mass.

George Wall­er­stein, Seattle, Wash.

Marc Weiss, New York, N.Y.

Beverly West­heimer, Peters­bor­ough, N.H.

Tom West­heimer, Peters­bor­ough, N.H.

Car­ol Wino­grad, Stan­ford, Cal­if.

Terry Wino­grad, Stan­ford, Cal­if.

Ju­dith Zee, Stein­berg, Colo.

Robert Zev­in, Cam­bridge, Mass.

Tal J. Zlot­nit­sky, Trin­ity, Fla.

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