The Cable

Senators pressure Obama on Iran sanctions

There was some strong pushback at Monday night's AIPAC gala against the Obama administration's call for further patience in waiting for the U.N. Security Council to enact a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. But it didn't come from the Israeli side or the lobbying group itself: it came from two senior U.S. senators.

Senate leadership member Charles Schumer, D-NY, and moderate Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, both passionately pledged to push this week for action on the Iran sanctions legislation currently awaiting a House-Senate conference. They directly contradicted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call for more time to allow the U.N. process to play out, a plea she made in remarks to the same group earlier in the day.

Comparing a delay in confronting Iran's nuclear program with the WWII-era appeasement of Adolf Hitler, Schumer said there was no choice but to move forward with new Iran sanctions now.

"Diplomatic efforts have failed. We are too close (to a nuclear Iran) to simply continue those efforts," said Schumer. "The U.S. must hit Iran first, on our own, with unilateral sanctions, no matter what the other nations of the world do. And we cannot wait, we must push those sanctions now ... we cannot afford to wait for Russia or China."

Schumer's comments showed some daylight between the New York senator and the administration on the issue of banning the export of petroleum products to Iran. Schumer is for it, but administration officials say they want to focus on sanctions that target the regime, not the population.

Clinton counseled patience in her AIPAC speech Monday morning. "We are now working with our partners in the United Nations on new Security Council sanctions that will show Iran's leaders that there are real consequences for their intransigence," she said. "It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts."

Schumer and Graham will send a letter to Obama this week demanding he implement the new sanctions bill as soon as it gets to his desk. In his speech, Graham also said the U.N. process was going too slowly.

"Russia and China are AWOL when it comes to Iran," he said. "Time is not on our side."

Graham also directly contradicted Clinton's message on settlements, where she said that the status of Jerusalem was an issue subject to "good faith negotiations."

"Jerusalem is not a settlement. No government in Israel will ever look at Jerusalem as a settlement. And no government of the United States should ever look at Jerusalem as a settlement," Graham said to raucous applause. "It's the undivided capital of the state of Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed Graham's sentiments only minutes later.

"Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital," he said. "Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."

Both senators told the 7,000 assembled AIPAC members to push for immediate action on Iran sanctions when they flood Capitol Hill Tuesday to lobby their representatives, and AIPAC officials confirms that this will be the No. 1 talking point for AIPAC in all meetings.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, is said to be trying to help the administration delay a conference by not allowing the House to appoint conferees. Denying that charge, he said recently he wants to get the bill to the President's desk before May.

Clinton met with Netanyahu at the Mayflower Hotel Monday afternoon. The State Department had been expecting Netanyahu to come to Foggy Bottom for the meeting but the location was changed at the last minute. Israeli sources said that protocol dictated that Netanyahu should choose the meeting place because he still technically outranks Clinton.

But protocol didn't seem to bother Netanyahu when he traveled to Observatory Circle to sit down for dinner with the Vice President Joseph Biden Monday night. He goes to the White House to see Obama Tuesday afternoon.

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Netanyahu, Abbas, Merida, Pakistan, North Korea

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of Monday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday afternoon at the Mayflower Hotel following Clinton's remarks to the AIPAC conference.  Protocol dictated that Clinton should go to where Netanyahu was because he technically outranks her. "They had a further discussion of the specific actions that might be taken to improve the atmosphere and keep proximity talks moving forward," the State Department said in a statement after the meeting.
  • As for Clinton's list of demands and Netanyahu's seeming inability or refusal to meet them? "This is an ongoing process, and so I wouldn't suggest that we have particular concerns at this point," Crowley said.
  • Special Envoy George Mitchell met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday and is now headed back to Washington, just in time for President Obama's Tuesday meeting with Netanyahu.
  • Clinton is going to Mexico on Tuesday for high level meetings related to the Merida Initiative. She won't have time to meet with Embassy and consulate staff there so she did a video teleconference with them Monday afternoon, where she pledged to continue to press for answers regarding the murders of consular staff in Juarez.
  • Undersecretary Maria Otero, Assistant Secretary for International Organizations Esther Brimmer, and Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs Reta Jo Lewis are going to Rio de Janeiro later this week for the World Urban Forum, joining Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan.
  • "You know, rapid global urbanization is a phenomenon that requires the attention of the United States and all nations concerned," said Crowley, pointing out that two-thirds of the world population will live in cities by 2050.
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Sandy Vershbow will travel to Bahrain and Oman this week, to lead the fifth round of the Gulf Security Dialogue.
  • State Department is not objecting to a new gas pipeline deal between Pakistan and Iran, according to Crowley. "This is a decision for Pakistan to make," he said, "Our concerns about the role that Iran plays in the region and beyond is well known."
  • No real comment on North Korea's decision to put American Aijalon Mahli Gomes on trial, after that guy entered the Hermit Kingdom illegally. What are you thinking, man?