Pennsylvania’s two senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, are in the crosshairs of a new battle on Capital Hill over Iran sanctions.
They are two of the nearly 50 senators that have so far cosponsored the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, which would introduce new sanctions against Iran’s oil industry if Tehran fails to comply within six months of the terms of the international deal reached in Geneva in November.
While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is backing the bill, J Street is urging its members to ask lawmakers to switch their stances.
In an email to Pennsylvania supporters, Josh Friedes, director of regional strategy and operations at J Street, wrote: “Last year, J Street stood up for a diplomatic solution that would both keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and keep us out of another Mideast war.
“Now,” the email continued “with a first-step agreement in place to make that possible, longtime critics of diplomacy are pushing new legislation that could destroy the process that Secretary Kerry and the international community have worked” to put in place.
The legislation that was introduced on Dec. 19 represents the latest round in a long-running debate in Washington over how best to tackle the Iranian nuclear threat and to what extent diplomacy should be utilized.
The agreement temporarily freezes key parts of Tehran’s nuclear program in return for short-term relief from some economic sanctions. Negotiators set a six-month deadline for hammering out a permanent treaty that would severely limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
The new proposed sanctions legislation would go into effect if Iran violated the terms of the temporary accord or if it failed to reach a permanent agreement in a timely manner.
President Barack Obama has said new sanctions would hinder the diplomatic process that’s underway and has threatened to veto the bill if it passes. The Senate bill would need to be reconciled with a House Iran sanctions bill that passed last summer.
Despite the number of cosponsors, the bill faces significant opposition in the Senate, particularly from some Democrats. Among those opposed are four Jewish senators with strong pro-Israel records: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); Carl Levin (D-Mich.); Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment Committee; and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Energy Committee.
Though the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has not taken a position on the bill, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs has urged its passage, as has the American Jewish Committee.
Local House members, both Democrats and Republicans, did not respond to requests for comment on the Senate legislation. Casey was one of the 26 original cosponsors of the bill, which is being referred to as the Menendez-Kirk bill. On Jan. 3, Toomey signed on.
Toomey said the “combination of tough sanctions and diplomacy is the only conceivable way, short of armed conflict, to achieve the U.S. and U.N. objective of ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”