Showdown at AIPAC: Iran Sanctions on the Line

As the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIAPC) gathers in Washington, DC for its annual Policy Conference, Republicans are hoping to use the group’s traditional lobbying push to force Democrats to hold a Senate vote on Iran sanctions. The bipartisan Kirk-Menendez bill, which would apply new sanctions to Iran if talks fail, has stalled after President Barack Obama threatened a veto in his State of the Union Address.

According to Politico on Saturday, there is broad agreement among Republicans that the AIPAC conference represents a unique point of leverage against Democrats who have lost their nerve. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who is one of the bill’s co-sponsors, will address the AIPAC Policy Conference, along with Secretary of State John Kerry. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also address the closing session on Tuesday.

Netanyahu will meet with Obama, and will use the opportunity to press for tougher pressure on Iran–a request that will almost certainly fall on deaf years, after Obama championed the interim six-month nuclear deal with Iran that went into effect in January, and which Netanyahu called an “historic mistake.” Obama is expected to press Netanyahu to make significant security concessions in order to move the stalled peace process forward.

The GOP’s effort to use the AIPAC conference is odd, especially given that AIPAC has tended to lean towards the Democratic Party, despite its official bipartisan stance. It has avoided confrontations with the Obama White House over the past several years, and made itself available to lobby on Obama’s behalf for a military strike against Syria last year, a cause doomed from the outset by the severe lack of support for a strike in Congress.