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Berman: Ready to move ahead on Iran sanctions

By Eric Fingerhut, JTA

September 10, 2009 | 8:28 pm

Listen to Karmel Melamed’s exclusive interview with Berman on his blog, “Iranian American Jews”

More than 300 Jewish communal leaders came to the nation’s capital to push for increased pressure on Iran — and they were pleased by what they heard.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said he would move forward on Iran sanctions legislation next month “absent some compelling evidence why I should do otherwise.”

Speaking Sept. 10 at the National Jewish Leadership Advocacy Day on Iran in Washington, U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said that next month he will mark up the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act and “begin the process of tightening the screws on Tehran” if Iran “does not reverse course.”

The legislation would allow the sanctioning of companies that help Iran import or produce refined petroleum, which is seen as potentially having a large impact on Iran’s economy because the country imports 40 percent of its refined petroleum.

Berman said the clock has “almost run out” on Iran.

“If the Iranians are going to engage in a meaningful and significant way that will spell the end of their nuclear enrichment program, we’ll open a new chapter with them,” Berman said. “But let’s clarify ‘meaningful’ — we’re not going to be conned by an Iranian rope-a-dope, its stalling efforts. We have no intention of spending months analyzing old proposals which are offered merely to delay imposition of sanctions.”

The Obama administration has signaled that it will reconsider its efforts to engage Iran on its pursuit of nuclear weapons if no progress has been made by the end of September.

In addition to Berman, Jewish community leaders heard House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) both say they were ready to proceed with sanctions legislation as well. Hoyer, speaking before Berman, said he had told his colleague that “once you move it, my intention is to bring it to the floor shortly thereafter.”

Also speaking were House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)

If anyone had any doubts about how important the Iran issue is to the leadership of the mainstream American Jewish community, the powerful lineup at a Sept. 10 panel discussion during advocacy day should have erased them.

AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman, American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris and B’nai B’rith International Executive Director Dan Mariaschin were seated at the same table on the stage next to panel moderator Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

In addition to talking about the threat posed by Iran with its building of nuclear weapons, the panelists also emphasized the importance of making sure that the entire Jewish community and all Americans were aware of the threat’s urgency.

“There is no national sense of urgency” on Iran, said Foxman, who then outlined a “Catch-22” facing the Jewish community in the coming months.

“We do not have the luxury to not lead” on Iran, he said, but in taking the lead, some may dismiss the threat as just a Jewish issue.

Still, Foxman said, “the job will have to be done beyond the Jewish community” and “we have to lead even though it will be perceived as a Jewish issue.”

Hoyer in his remarks offered a talking point on Iran that had no relation to Israel or the Jewish community, warning that “250,000 Americans are within range of Iranian weaponry.”

Hoenlein as he moderated the panel blasted those in the Jewish community “who seek to get attention by sowing discord” on the Iran issue.

“We need to put aside our differences and stand together” against the threat of Iran, said the chief executive of the Presidents Conference — the Jewish community’s main umbrella organization on Middle East-related issues.

Hoenlein did not specify exactly to whom he was referring, but may have been reacting to a statement released the day before by Americans for Peace Now, a Presidents Conference member, opposing “crippling” sanctions “that target the Iranian people rather than their leaders” and backing “engagement” without “arbitrary deadlines.”

The statement contradicted the message of advocacy day, during which leaders were calling for increased economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran and for the passage of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. The measure would punish companies that help Iran import or produce refined petroleum.

The advocacy day was organized by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Iran, which is led by the Presidents Conference, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, UJC/Federations of North America and NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia.

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