Senators from both political parties chided the Obama administration on Thursday for not moving faster to tighten the economic screws on Iran, with one Republican lawmaker decrying what he called an “enthusiasm gap” between White House and the Congress over the need to get tough on Tehran.
At a hearing, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee berated administration officials for opposing bipartisan legislation that would clamp new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran. Lawmakers argued that harsh measures were needed to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“Your sense of urgency should have risen to our sense of urgency, and we haven’t seen that,” said Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), who cited a report last month by U.N. nuclear inspectors documenting secret Iranian efforts to acquire technology used in making nuclear weapons.
The Senate was expected to vote within 24 hours on an amendment co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Il.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to impose further sanctions on Iran beyond the new measures announced by the administration on Nov. 21. A controversial provision in the Senate proposal would ban U.S. companies from doing business with any foreign financial institution with ties to Iran’s central bank.
Menendez scolded the administration’s two witnesses — Wendy R. Sherman, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, and David S. Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence — for speaking against his amendment even after lawmakers agreed to changes sought by the White House.
“We’ve given you the tools, but you haven’t shown the robust effort to use what we’ve given you, when the clock is ticking,” he said.
Cohen said the administration also was looking into ways to increase pressure on Iran’s banking sector, but argued that the Senate proposal risked harming U.S. allies and fragmenting a coalition that has been built carefully over many months. He also warned that the wrong types of sanctions could raise global oil prices, benefitting Iran at the expense of Western economies.
“We are more likely to achieve cooperation ... if we approach this issue through an effort to coordinate action voluntarily rather than with the threat of coercion,” he said.