Lew Tells Unmoved AIPAC Crowd that Sanctions Relief Just Gives Iran 'a Small Taste'

WASHINGTON -- The first Obama administration official to speak before this year's American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington received a muted reception Sunday night as he tried to convince the crowd that Iran will hardly reap any benefit from its sanctions relief.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the sanctions relief included in the six-month interim nuclear agreement is only "a drop in the bucket" and simply designed to give Iran "a small taste of how things would improve" financially if the Islamic Republic gave up its nuclear program.

Of the countries now streaming toward Tehran to ink business deals in the country, Lew characterized it as a mirage.

"Even though I've said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business," he said. "The moment those talks turn into improper deals we will respond with speed and force."

Lew, an Orthodox Jew, told the crowd "no one grew up with a deeper appreciation for Israel than I did."

Still, the huge AIPAC crowd -- more than 14,000 people registered, and at times parts of the Washington Convention Center were at maximum capacity -- mostly just listened politely. Some didn't applaud when he was introduced, and many didn't react at the applause lines built into the speech stressing how tough the administration was being on Iran.

Of those who said "sanctions would never work," Lew said proudly, "we proved exactly the opposite."

He said that the agreement was forged "without fear that in the meantime Iran would advance its nuclear program" and said "key elements have been rolled back" of the program already.

"While all options must remain on the table … we reserve force as a last option," Lew added.

Just a couple of hours before Lew spoke, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told an AIPAC audience that he didn't expect Iran to comply and did not agree with the sanctions rollback. "It's the same regime and we need to know that before we can deal with them effectively," Engel said.

Lew told the plenary audience that "if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions."

If Iran doesn't follow through on its commitments, "the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place," he added.

Congressional leaders including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who addresses the conference Tuesday morning, have vociferously disputed this rubber-band assertion of the administration.

"The bottom line is promises are not enough; Iran must meet its obligations," Lew continued, adding they're not looking for "trust but verify" but "this is a case of verify everything."

Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to speak Monday. When incoming AIPAC president Bob Cohen told the crowd what a friend Kerry is to Israel, the applause was as slight as it was for Lew.

More from AIPAC: 

Dem Foreign Affairs Leader Wary of How Administration Will Define a Good Deal with Iran