AIPAC policy conferences – the annual pro-Israel extravaganzas meant to spotlight the power of the pro-Israel lobby group – are always the most interesting in presidential election years, or when they're a big fight brewing over U.S. foreign policy.
It's the second category that will galvanize this year's conference, which begins on March 21 in Washington and no doubt attract an astonishing proportion of the House and Senate, not to mention Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
This week AIPAC sent an unusual letter to all members of Congress - the “unusual” part was flagged in an AIPAC email to reporters - expressing “outrage at the U.S. government's continuing relationship with dozens of companies doing business with Iran. These ongoing financial dealings undermine longstanding American efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.”
That's a response to a New York Times blockbuster on Sunday, which revealed that in the past decade the federal government has given contracts to the tune of $107 billion to companies that continue to do business in Iran, with more than two-thirds going to companies that work in Iran's energy industry, despite U.S. sanctions laws. (See a Political Insider item on the subject here)
That undercuts U.S. demands that other nations, including Russia and China, participate in tough international sanctions aimed at getting Iran to stop its nuclear weapons development.
What I'm guessing: the Times story was the best thing that could have happened to AIPAC, providing a hard focus for the conference that doesn't involve controversial questions about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, settlements and Jerusalem.
Iran has been the overarching them at recent policy conferences, but the New York Times revelations will freshen it up and add energy to the event.
One thing you won't hear much of at AIPAC is the other side of the Times story: how it reveals that sanctions are easy to talk about, extraordinarily hard to implement, especially when you're talking about the profits to be made in dealing with one of the world's biggest oil-producing states.
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