Iran, Iran, Iran (don’t talk about Israel and settlements)

Just in case we’d forgotten why Washington should never pressure Israel (today it’s Iran, yesterday it’s Iraq and perhaps in years to come…Venezuela?):

As more than a dozen lawmakers go on record to ask the Obama administration to end the diplomatic spat with Israel following Vice President Joe Biden‘s visit, some are now warning that a prolonged dispute could risk harming international efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program.

“What are we doing playing hardball with an ally like this?” asked House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-VA, in an interview with The Cable. “What’s important here is for all of us to be focused on the nuclear threat from Iran … We’re dependent upon that ally to be with us to combat Iran’s nuclear program.”

Cantor phoned White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last night to make clear his view that it’s time for the administration to get over its anger at Israel for announcing the approval of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem last week. He said he fears the White House is trying to capitalize on the incident to pressure the Israelis to agree to things Washington would otherwise not be able to get.

“There was an incident and no one defends the government of Israel over that, whether it was intentional or not,” Cantor said. “For the White House to seize on that incident and seize on that opportunity, that says a lot about the thinking of this administration.”

Cantor suggested there could be some legislative way of documenting Congress’s sentiments on this issue, but no specific plans have yet surfaced.

Congressional concern over how the row will impact Iran diplomacy has been bipartisan. Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand echoed Cantor in a statement Tuesday morning.

“While the timing of the East Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties — Iran’s nuclear threat,” Gillibrand said.”As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am focused on strengthening international pressure on Iran’s regime to derail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Politico reports on a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from Reps. Mark Kirk, R-IL, and Chris Carney, D-PA, which said, “While the recent controversy is regrettable, it should not overshadow the importance of the US-Israel alliance. A zoning dispute over 143 acres of Jewish land in Israel’s capital city should not eclipse the growing threat we face from Iran… We urge your Administration to refrain from further public criticism of Israel and to focus on more pressing issues affecting this vital relationship, such as signing and enforcing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act when it comes to your desk.”

Former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller said that U.S.-Israel cooperation on Iran was crucial and should not be sacrificed over this dispute.

“You can’t create a situation where we have no leverage over them and they think they’re basically on their own.”

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