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AIPAC to UANI: Make Gary Samore Shut Up!

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I attended a lunch panel on Iran hosted by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) with Eric EdelmanJohn HannahRay Takeyh, and Jonathan Ruhe as the featured presenters. The conversation on the dais veered between quite hawkish and moderately hawkish, as one might expect from members of JINSA’s Iran task force. As the lineal successor to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Iran task force, JINSA’s team has been urging the Obama administration to, among other measures, supply Israel with the latest version of the bunker-busting Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) and the aircraft to deliver it so as to, if Netanyahu finds it desirable, obliterate the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities.

As usual with these meetings, however, some of the most interesting dialogue came on the sidelines.

During lunch, I happened to be sitting in front of Charles Perkins, AIPAC‘s assistant director for policy and government affairs. I didn’t hear the full conversation, but Perkins at one point engaged a staffer whose name I didn’t catch from the pro-sanctions and highly mysterious group, United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI). UANI, whose board includes a neoconservative who’s who, has opposed various stages of diplomacy with Iran. But, as my colleague Eli Clifton has noted, the group’s president—nuclear expert and Obama’s first-term non-proliferation czar Gary Samore—has defended the framework with Iran as probably the best that can be achieved at this stage of the game.

It was evident at the JINSA event that Perkins, the AIPAC official, was not pleased by this development. He complained to the UANI staffer about Samore’s praise for the announced framework. In particular, he was upset about Samore’s signing, along with several dozen former senior national-security officials, of a statement published by The Iran Project last week in support of the agreement. Perkins appeared to be under the misapprehension that Samore was speaking out in UANI’s name. But the group’s staffer assured him that, despite his position as president, Samore only speaks in his personal capacity (although he also noted that he was sometimes identified as the executive director of Harvard’s Belfer Center).

Indeed, he stressed that Mark Wallace—a former George W. Bush ambassador and a businessman involved in mining ventures that would allegedly profit from war with Iran—was UANI’s CEO and controlled the group’s agenda. It bears noting that when Samore has expressed skepticism about the P5+1 negotiations, UANI has issued press releases signed by both their top executives, as with these statements from September 2013July 2014 and last November. It’s also worth noting that UANI has not issued a similar leadership release since the framework’s announcement, only a statement highlighting the purported differences between the U.S. “parameters,” Iran’s response, and the “Joint EU-Iran” communiqué.

Though the conversation was brief, and I couldn’t hear all of it, the gist recalled above was crystal clear. (I did not have my notebook to hand; hence the unfortunate absence of direct quotes here.) I don’t want to overstate its importance, but it’s telling in a number of ways. First, UANI, which built its reputation by placing prominent non-proliferation experts like Gary Samore in high positions, is now distancing itself from Samore because it doesn’t agree with his expert analysis. Secondly, AIPAC is likewise worried that nuclear non-proliferation experts might actually consider the prospective deal with Iran a positive development or, in any event, the least bad achievable result under the circumstances. This, of course, is not the view of Amb. Wallace or any of the JINSA task force members who spoke yesterday.

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