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Iran nuclear deal tops agenda as Georgia freshmen visit Israel


WASHINGTON -- As Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his case against the Iran nuclear deal to a few dozen members of Congress visiting him in Jerusalem, Netanyahu whipped out a whiteboard to illustrate his point.

In this case, he was preaching to the converted, an all-Republican group that included Georgia freshmen Barry Loudermilk, Buddy Carter and Rick Allen. But he gave them new ammunition and additional urgency as they prepare for a September showdown with the Obama administration.

Loudermilk, of Cassville, and Carter, of Pooler, in phone interviews with the AJC on Wednesday from Israel, described the meeting as a key moment of the trip. Said Carter:

"Certainly Israel has made it clear that they’re going to do what they have to do to protect their homeland, and it’s not difficult to read through the lines to understand what he is saying is they’re going to have nuclear arms as well. He went on to point out you can count on these other countries in this region to join in."

Israel has not publicly acknowledged its nuclear program, but is almost universally acknowledged to have nuclear arms already.

The congressional trip was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, the charitable counterpart to the American Israel Political Action Committee – an immensely influential group that has been lobbying against the Iran deal.

(Charitable affiliates of lobby groups have sponsored trips for members of Congress for years to get around the 2007 law putting the squeeze on lobbyists. AIPAC has been the most prolific.)

The group met with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, which Carter said shows that AIPAC was exposing the group to a range of views. Loudermilk said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas indicated that he, too, was opposed to the deal, even if he did not say it directly.

Along the border of the Gaza Strip, where residents are constantly worried about rocket attacks, there is even more concern. Said Loudermilk of the economic benefit for Iran of rolling back sanctions:

"You put more rockets in the hands of Hamas -- which when you dump $150 billion in the hands of Iran, a significant amount of money is going to end up in the hands of terrorists. From the Gaza Strip all the way across the nation."

President Barack Obama has said that the deal offers the best chance for the U.S. to halt Iran's quest for a bomb for the next several years, and is a much better option than war. Former Democratic Georgia U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, who works on nuclear nonproliferation, has come out in favor of the deal as well because it will make Iran's path to a bomb more difficult.

The deal's critics say continued economic sanctions are the best course. They have the votes to defeat the deal in September, but the question is whether they have enough votes to override Obama's expected veto -- which would then allow the deal to go into effect.

Loudermilk noted that a group of Democrats came through on a similar trip before this one, and one of them Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., announced her opposition. Loudermilk said he would press for new, stronger sanctions:

"They haven’t changed their ideology at all. I forget which one of the people I was talking to compared Iran to Adolf Hitler: Hitler was looking for a master race, and Iran is looking for a master faith. Nothing will stand in their way of achieving what they want to do. When you put this type of weaponry in the hands of a madman, it’s going to be used against you."

August is the most popular time for overseas trips, and several members of the delegation are abroad this month. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, is in China on a Congressional Black Caucus trip, according to a spokesman, looking at exchange program possibilities for students in his district.


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