U.S. Senator Robert Menendez
U.S. Senator Robert MenendezReuters

The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on Friday backed down from its support of a new bill in the U.S Congress that would impose new sanctions on Iran.

AIPAC’s announcement came after Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the authors of the bill, urged his colleagues not to let partisan politics drive a vote on the matter.

Menendez was responding to 42 Republican senators who sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) demanding an immediate vote on sanctions against Iran, an effort President Barack Obama has threatened to veto.

“I have long thought of this as a bipartisan national security issue - not a partisan political issue - and at the end of the day a national security issue that we must approach in a spirit of bipartisanship and unity, which has been the spirit for which we have worked together on this matter," Menendez said, according to The Huffington Post.

"I hope that we will not find ourselves in a partisan process trying to force a vote on a national security matter before its appropriate time,” he added.

Several hours later, reported The Huffington Post, AIPAC issued a statement backing Menendez.

“AIPAC commends Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) for his strong and eloquent statement on the Senate floor today outlining the threat of Iran's nuclear program and the imperative of dismantling it. We appreciate his commitment to ensure that any agreement with Iran ‘is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon,’” said AIPAC.

“We applaud Senator Menendez’s determined leadership on this issue and his authorship with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure. We remain committed to working with the Administration and the bipartisan leadership in Congress to ensure that the Iran nuclear program is dismantled,” added the group.

The new sanctions bill has been gaining momentum in Congress in recent weeks. 59 of the 100 senators, including 16 of Obama's fellow Democrats, signed on as co-sponsors to it. The bill would impose new restrictions on Iran if talks on a permanent deal falter. Reid, however, has repeatedly declined to say when it might be voted on.

The Huffington Post noted that AIPAC’s latest statement shows that it has completely reversed course on the issue. For months, the group had been lobbying lawmakers hard to push the Iran sanctions bill, even launching an attack on one of its biggest allies, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), for not supporting it.

Only in recent weeks has AIPAC begun backing off in the face of resistance from the White House and key Democratic lawmakers, including Reid, the report noted.

Earlier this week, two House Democrats began mobilizing their colleagues against a bill to slap more sanctions on Iran, circulating a letter that backs Obama's position that such a bill would jeopardize delicate nuclear negotiations.

Spokespersons for Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and David Price (D-N.C.) said they have more than 70 signatories on a letter urging Congress to "give diplomacy a chance."

The push against new sanctions was joined by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the weekend.

Clinton, who leads the pack among potential Democratic presidential contenders for 2016, said in a January 26 letter to Democratic Senator Carl Levin, "Now that serious negotiations are finally under way, we should do everything we can to test whether they can advance a permanent solution."

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)