WASHINGTON (JTA) – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) launched its largest-ever conference with a focus on the Iran nuclear talks.
The legislative focus of the conference, which started Sunday with a record-breaking 16,000 activists in attendance, is two bills that seek increased congressional involvement in the nuclear talks underway between Iran and the major powers.
Activists who visit Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the last day of the conference, will seek co-sponsorship for a bill that adds new sanctions on Iran should it walk away from the talks. They also will lend their voices to a measure that subjects any deal with Iran to congressional approval.
U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto both bills, saying that any congressional interference in the talks underway between Iran and the major powers risks scuttling the negotiations.
AIPAC speakers emphasized that they do not want to scuttle the talks and instead are seeking to ensure that there is congressional review and the deal is watertight.
“The ability to look at this, to submit it for approval or disapproval, is a critical role for Congress to play,” Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s CEO, said at the opening plenary.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes the talks, is speaking to the conference on Monday. The next day he will address the U.S. Congress in a speech that has engendered controversy because Netanyahu and the Republican congressional leadership arranged it without consulting Democrats or the White House.
Kohr acknowledged the furor, but noted that AIPAC was encouraging lawmakers to attend the speech.
“There’s no question that the way this speech has come about has created a great deal of upset among Democrats,” he said. “It frankly may have upset people in this room.”
Also addressing the conference is Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, who last week said Netanyahu’s speech is “destructive” of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Kohr in his opening remarks said that AIPAC also backs suspending assistance to the Palestinian Authority as long as it pursued statehood outside the framework of negotiations and sought legal action against Israel in international courts.