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Right Turn
Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 05/17/2011

Congress fills the void on Iran policy

The Associated Press reports:

Iran could face a new array of U.S. sanctions under proposed House legislation that’s meant to force Tehran into international talks on its nuclear program.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman of California, the panel’s top Democrat, have introduced a bill that would impose penalties on human rights abusers in Iran, including freezing their U.S.-based assets, denying them visas and prohibiting financial or business transactions with any U.S. entity.

The round of sanctions also would target foreign companies that do energy business with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard; expand help to pro-democracy groups in Iran; and require all companies, U.S. and foreign-based, that are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to report on whether they are conducting activities with Iran that could trigger sanctions. The bill also would restrict the travel of Iranian diplomats to a 25-mile radius of New York and Washington.

Ros-Lehtinen was, as always, blunt in her criticism of the administration. Her statement read, in part:

U.S. policy towards Iran has offered a lot of bark, but not enough bite. This new bipartisan legislation would bring to bear the full weight of the U.S. by seeking to close the loopholes in existing energy and financial sanctions laws, while increasing the type and number of sanctions to be imposed.

The threat posed by Iran to U.S. national security, our interests, and that of our allies, has reached a critical level. There is no time to waste. The goal of U.S. policy, working alone or leading other responsible nations, must be to compel the Iranian regime not just to cease, but to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program and abandon its other unconventional weapons pursuits and state-sponsorship of global terrorist networks.

Given the grave nature of the Iranian threat, it is my hope that my colleagues will support further strengthening the bill as it moves through the legislative process and not fall into the trap of enabling the Executive Branch to ignore U.S. law. Failing to move expeditiously to close these loopholes, and allowing the continued failure of successive administrations to vigorously enforce the sanctions currently on the books, strengthens Iran while leaving the U.S. and our allies more vulnerable.

This is noteworthy on a couple of parts. First, President Obama’s fixation on process has ignored a simple fact: Sanctions today haven’t halted Iran’s nuclear weapons program. So Ros-Lehtinen’s action represents a move, perhaps the last we have available short of military action, to force Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions. Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and head of its Iran Energy Project and Iran Human Rights Project, co-authored a confidential report provided to the U.S. government on the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran’s crude oil supply chain. He e-mailed me:

The new legislation for the first time targets Iran’s crude oil exports and the dominant role played by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the development, production, and distribution of Iran’s oil. It also targets the IRGC for human rights abuses and the international companies facilitating that abuse. The IRGC has been sanctioned internationally for its role in the brutal repression of the Iranian people and for its leadership of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and terrorist activities. Hundreds of IRGC front companies, including a number identified by FDD, are active in the multibillion dollar Iranian crude oil supply chain, which is a source of the regime’s wealth and power, and pays for the regime’s vast system of repression. With the introduction of this new legislation, companies now are on notice that “buyer and seller beware”: If you’re buying crude from Iran or selling tools of oppression to the Iranian regime, you’re doing business with the IRGC, and that’s bad for business, bad for your reputation and could make you the target of US sanctions.

Second, this proposed legislation highlights the laxity of the Obama administration. Why had it not moved with haste to impose sanctions and close loopholes? One would think the Obama team would be interested in making sure its Iran sanctions policy (one that is based on the questionable premise that economic pressure can force the mullahs to give up their chance for nuclear weapons and the international status that goes with them) succeeds. But its lack of follow-through and refusal to look at the consequences of its own policies are such that now, thankfully, Congress is acting in a bipartisan fashion.

Obama’s inactivity during the Arab Spring has no doubt given the mullahs comfort. The United States seems unwilling or unable to assert itself wholeheartedly on behalf of friends and in combating our foes. It is important, therefore, that we re-establish some level of credibility with the mullahs; even a hint of seriousness would be helpful. Ros-Lehtinen and Berman therefore deserve credit for doing what the administration, for inexplicable reasons, finds it so hard to do, namely signal that we are serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear program. We are serious, right?

By  |  10:00 AM ET, 05/17/2011

Categories:  foreign policy, Iran

 
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