January 18, 2016

Some Jewish-American groups welcome Iran deal but remain wary

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A plane (L) carrying Iranian-Americans, who left Tehran under a prisoner swap, lands at Cointrin airport in Geneva, Switzerland January 17, 2016.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

A plane (L) carrying Iranian-Americans, who left Tehran under a prisoner swap, lands at Cointrin airport in Geneva, Switzerland January 17, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Jewish-American group that lobbied for the Iran nuclear agreement sees the prisoner swap and Tehran’s release of captured U.S. sailors as positive signs for U.S.-Iranian relations but that strict verification remain paramount.

But improved relations do not indicate a detente with Iran, which has a history of being a troublemaker in the region, said Dan Kalik, chief of staff at J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” advocacy group, said Sunday.

“I don’t think we’re at a place where just because we have a nuclear deal with Iran, they’re now trustworthy or even an ally,” Kalik said.

Other Jewish-American organizations remain deeply opposed to the deal, which has also been sharply criticized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Republicans. The issue has sharply divided American Jews.


RELATED STORY: Jailed pastor Saeed Abedini among prisoners released by Iran


The International Atomic Energy Agency ruled on Saturday that Iran had fulfilled last year’s landmark agreement with the United States and five other world powers to curtail its nuclear program, triggering the end of sanctions.

Days before the accord’s implementation, nerves were rattled when Iran briefly held 10 U.S. sailors who the U.S. military said made a navigational mistake that led them into Iranian waters.

The leader of another Jewish-American organization that had not taken a position on the nuclear agreement in the months leading to its implementation, invoked a biblical saying from the book of Psalms to “seek peace and pursue it.”

But Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said: “Iran’s support of terror, a strong inspections regime, Iran’s human rights and religious freedom violations, and the United States’ standing in the world remain uppermost in our minds, as is ensuring Israel’s security.”.

On Monday, with five released prisoners including a pastor and a journalist on their way to Germany for medical treatment and reunions with their families, criticism of the Iran deal revived. The Jerusalem Post observed that Jewish-American prisoner Robert Levinson was not among those released.

The Anti-Defamation League, which opposed the nuclear deal, said on Saturday that Tehran’s release of several Iranian-American prisoners this weekend was a positive step. But it expressed hope Iran would soon release Levinson, who has been held captive for nearly nine years and whose fate remains unknown. 

U.S. officials said on Saturday the United States would continue to seek Levinson’s whereabouts and try to bring him home.

The ADL also urged “strong U.S. pushback” on human rights violations, Iran’s regional expansionism and further missile development, which it said exemplified “ongoing militarism.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said the deal, which it strongly opposed, was a turning point for Iran’s strength as a “terrorist state” and its ability to pursue regional dominance, as tens of billions of dollars are repatriated.

“This is a dangerous moment for America and our allies,” AIPAC said in a statement on Saturday. It said Iran must be held to the commitments it agreed to under the nuclear accord and that its support for militant groups and arming of regional proxies must be confronted.