Israel praises Iran compromise bill
White House okays role for Congress
JERUSALEM — Israel is satisfied with a Senate bill on the nuclear agreement with Iran that is approved by the White House.
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, on Wednesday in an interview with Israel Radio called the compromise bill, unanimously passed Tuesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “an achievement for Israeli policy.”
Steinitz said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech last month to a joint meeting of Congress “was decisive in achieving this law, which is a very important element in preventing a bad deal, or at least, in improving the agreement and making it more reasonable.”
The bill requires that Congress vote to approve the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran based on the text of a final agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program, and prevents the Obama administration from lifting sanctions on Iran until Congress is done reviewing the agreement. It also requires the administration to report to Congress on various issues relating to Iran, including its support of global terrorism and its nuclear program.
Intensive negotiations over recent days between the committee chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who authored the bill, and its top Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), stripped elements that the White House found objectionable, including linking sanctions relief to Iranian actions on terrorism, and shortened the review time from 60 days to 30 days.
Obama had threatened to veto earlier versions of the bill, but Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said before the vote that if reports on the compromise legislation bore out, that would no longer be the case.
The approved bill puts “more pressure and another barrier in the face of a bad agreement, and therefore the administration and the negotiating team will make more of an effort to seal gaps and to achieve an agreement that looks better, or at least more reasonable, so that it will pass in Congress,” Steinitz said.
The major powers and Iran announced earlier this month the outline of a nuclear deal that would swap sanctions relief for restrictions aimed at keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Israel and a number of Republican senators have strongly opposed the deal, saying it would leave Iran a nuclear weapons threshold state. The deadline for a final deal is June 30.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the Senate committee for reporting the bill to the full body, where it is guaranteed passage.
“Congress should review any agreement to ensure it meets U.S. objectives and object if it fails to do so,” AIPAC said in a statement.
“Serious concerns have been raised over the framework understanding. A final deal, with its immense national security implications, must be subjected to the constitutional system of checks and balances that is the bedrock of our democracy.”
'Grave concerns' over Russian arms deal
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Russian President Vladimir Putin to express “grave concerns” regarding the potential future sale of S-300 missile systems to Iran.
On Monday, Putin lifted a ban on the sale of advanced surface-to-air defense missiles to Iran that had been in place since 2007. The move prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to phone Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to protest any future missile sales.
During the phone call on Tuesday, Netanyahu said the sale would encourage Iranian aggression in the Middle East.
In a statement released later in the day, Netanyahu said the “dangerous” Iran framework deal reached April 2 in Switzerland was responsible for prompting Putin to green-light the sale.
“This sale of advanced weaponry to Iran is the direct result of the dangerous deal on the table between Iran and the P5+1,” he said in the statement, referring to the six world powers negotiating with Iran. “Can anyone still seriously claim that the deal with Iran will enhance security in the Middle East?”
Netanyahu is considering traveling to Moscow to meet with Putin personally on the issue, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.
U.S. negotiator: Deal on schedule
Iran and the world powers will reach a comprehensive final agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program by the June 30 deadline, the top U.S. negotiator in the talks told Israeli journalists.
In Jerusalem, a top U.S. negotiator told Israeli journalists that a final Iran deal will be signed by June 30.
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, during a briefing Monday with Israel’s diplomatic reporters, said a diplomatic negotiated solution is the best option to slow Iran’s nuclear program.
She said a military strike by Israel or the United States would only set back Iran’s nuclear program by two years.
“You can’t bomb their nuclear know-how, and they will rebuild everything,” Sherman said in the conference call.
“We think we are headed for a good deal. Is it a perfect deal? No. There is no such thing as a perfect deal.”
The briefing is part of the Obama administration’s efforts to garner support in Israel and among Jewish-Americans for the framework agreement.
Netanyahu has expressed opposition to the agreement, saying it would threaten Israel’s survival. He has called on the international community to negotiate a better agreement. Sherman acknowledged that Netanyahu’s concerns are legitimate.
She told the Israeli reporters that the United States remains committed to Israel’s security.
“Israel’s right to exist and Iran’s actions in the region will be dealt with on a parallel track,” Sherman said. “The U.S. will consult Israel on what it needs for its security.”
Sherman reiterated the Obama administration’s promise that a final deal would ensure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.