Josh Rogin reports: “The House-Senate conference on the defense authorization bill preserved an amendment imposing strict new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), despite administration objections and efforts to influence the negotiations.” The conferees touted their work, calling it “a powerful new regime of sanctions against the financial sector of Iran, including the Central Bank of Iran.
An aide to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) sent out an e-mail detailing the changes First, under the original Menendez-Kirk amendment, if a foreign financial institution continues to conduct transactions through the Central Bank of Iran, the president was required to prohibit that institution from opening or maintaining correspondent and payable-through accounts in the United States. Under the conference report, the president is required only to “prohibit or impose strict conditions on” that institution maintaining correspondent and payable-through accounts in the United States, and outright prohibit that institution from opening such accounts — “strict conditions” is weaker than “prohibit.”
Second, the conference report allows the president to waive sanctions if it is in “the national security interest” of the United States, not requiring that it be a “vital” interest.
Third, the conference report requires the Energy Information Administration to consult with the secretary of state and the director of national intelligence (as well as the secretary of the Treasury, who was designated in the original amendment) and report regularly to Congress on the availability and price of non-Iranian oil on the global market.
Finally, the conference report adds a new section, stating that the president has the power to publish rules to implement these sanctions, to order the publication of documents, and to levy penalties against those who conspire to violate the law.
Arguably the first change could weaken sanctions, but the others are either technical in nature or somewhat positive. So why the big fuss? Well, as best as we can surmise, the administration could have liked to weaken the sanctions much further or to delay them altogether. But it’s not easy to object to a 100 to 0 vote. So the administration got a few crumbs to save face.
The real question, however, is why the administration, which wants to avoid the use of force, isn’t champing at the bit to enact those crippling sanctions. Could it be that the president’s reelection demands as little disruption as possible right now? Could it be that the decision has already been made to try to “contain” Iran? Perhaps we’ll get a better idea s the legislation is implemented. For now, it appears the administration has been dragged kicking and screaming to the sanctions table.