- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2015

President Obama tried to convince skeptical American Jewish leaders and political donors Monday that the nuclear deal with Iran is in the best interests of the U.S. and of Israel.

In two closed-door meetings at the White House, Mr. Obama and national security adviser Susan E. Rice told the representatives of Jewish groups, and influential Jewish campaign donors, that the framework agreement announced two weeks ago is the best way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, White House aides said.

A source with a group that participated in the first 90-minute meeting said Mr. Obama gave a “very enthusiastic and forceful” presentation for about 30 minutes in favor of the agreement with Iran before opening the session for questions.

The Jewish groups raised two major concerns: that the easing of sanctions will give Iran access to billions of dollars that could be used to support more terrorist activities and other destabilizing efforts in the region, and that the inspections regime in the agreement won’t be “as effective as the president suggests.”

“There’s going to be room for Iran to cheat,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said Mr. Obama didn’t yet change any minds in the meeting.

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“The folks who walked in supportive are still supportive, and the folks who were concerned are still concerned,” the source said. “We’re hoping by expressing these concerns to the president, who’s really calling the shots, that we can have an impact on the terms of a final deal.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president also was stressing in the meetings that negotiators need to hammer out more details before a final deal can be reached by the end of June.

Iran has made some serious commitments to limit, and in some cases even roll back, their nuclear program in a way that would prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Earnest said. “The agreement also includes Iran’s cooperation with a set of the most intrusive inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program, and we want to make sure that [Jewish leaders] understand the details of what’s been agreed to so far.”

Among the groups attending one of the meetings were the American Jewish Committee, the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America, J Street and the Anti-Defamation League. The second meeting included major Jewish campaign donors to the Democratic party, among them billionaire entertainment mogul Haim Saban. The donors will be highly prized by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, now that she has launched her presidential bid.

The meetings came as Mr. Obama is scrambling to sell the deal to Congress, with lawmakers pushing to have a say in negotiations or impose new sanctions on Iran, and some 2016 presidential candidates criticizing the agreement as too soft on Tehran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also is strongly opposed to the deal.

Asked if the president wants the Jewish campaign donors to lobby Congress in favor of the nuclear deal, Mr. Earnest replied, “we would welcome the expression of that support directly to members of Congress.”

The president is dispatching Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to Congress this week to give classified briefings for lawmakers. Mr. Kerry said Monday he hopes lawmakers will give the administration “the space and the time” to conclude a deal with Iran.

Complicating Mr. Obama’s sales pitch to Jewish groups is the administration’s deteriorating relationship with the Israeli government. Jewish leaders in the U.S. have expressed growing concern in the wake of warnings that the White House is re-evaluating its policies toward Israel.

After Mr. Netanyahu won re-election last month, Mr. Obama criticized the Israeli leader for trying to marginalize Arab voters in his campaign. The White House questioned whether Mr. Netanyahu would ever support a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority and said the U.S. would be forced to reassess its approach toward Israel.

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