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Right Turn
Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 12/02/2011

Senate passes Iran sanctions 100-0; Obama objects (really)

Think about this: By a vote of 100-0 the Senate passed its most stringent Iran sanctions bill to date. The administration opposed it. The vote was on the amendment by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) The measure would: 1) Prohibit the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account on foreign financial institutions engaged in non-petroleum-related transactions with the Central Bank of Iran after 60 days; 2) Impose sanctions on foreign financial institutions, including central banks, engaged in petroleum-related transactions with the Central Bank of Iran after 180 days with 180-day special exemptions tied to the availability of non-Iranian oil on the market and a country’s significant reduction in purchases of Iranian oil; 3) Provide a humanitarian exception for food, medicine and medical devices; and 4) Provide the president with an unclassified (with classified annex, if necessary) national security waiver authority every 120 days.

Take about seven minutes to hear perhaps the most critical words spoken by any senator in recent memory. That they were spoken by a Democrat, a liberal one at that, only lends additional weight to his message. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Menendez read Obama officials the riot act:

Menendez’s damning words should be remembered as we go forward:

At your request, we engaged in an effort to come to a bipartisan agreement that I think is fair and balanced. And now you come here and vitiate that very agreement. So that says to me in the future that when you come to me and ask me to engage in a good-faith effort, you should have said, we want no amendment, not that you don’t care for that amendment. Now, having said that, let me just say, everything that you say in your testimony undermines the credibility of your opposition to this amendment.
The clock is ticking. Published reports say we have about a year. Whenever you’re going to start our sanctions regime robustly, six months before the clock has been achieved? Before they get a nuclear weapon? . . . So I find it pretty outrageous that when the clock is ticking, and when you ask us to engage in a more reasoned effort, and we produce such an effort in a bipartisan basis, that in fact you come here and say what you say. Which really undermines, certainly as it relates to this member, the relationship with me in the future, because you’re not going to tell me that please engage with us in an effort to find a more refined solution, and then when we do that, say you don’t care for it. It would have been more honest to say, we don’t want any amendment whatsoever.

The administration says it wants to avoid a military option in responding to Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapons capability. It says acquiring a nuclear weapon would be “unacceptable.” But in fact, Menendez makes the case that the administration does not want any effective policy. His argument certainly supports the view that the administration has thrown in the towel on preventing a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

What is more, Menendez’s comments confirm that this is not a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats are in perfect agreement. As a snior Senate advisor put it, “The Obama Administration runs the risk of losing control of Iran policy. The 100-0 vote on Menendez-Kirk was effectively an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the White House’s efforts thus far to stop Iran’s nuclear drive. Sarkozy’s initiative last week, calling for an international effort to sanction the Iranian Central Bank and stop Iranian oil sales, and now the Senate action show that -- as the Washington Post editorial rightly put it -- the President is no longer leading from behind on Iran. He’s just behind.”

Moreover, Menendez reminds us that the administration is not even using existing sanctions. (“You have been reluctant to sanction Chinese companies for energy sanctions when there is ample evidence that they are violating our laws, and there is precedence for us sanctioning Chinese companies for nuclear and weapons proliferation concerns. Even though we’ve given you the tools, you haven’t shown us the robust effort when the clock is ticking to use that which we have given you. So that causes us — that’s why 80 members of the Senate in a time in which it is very difficult to find bipartisan agreement — 80 members of the Senate have joined in our Iran/North Korea serious sanctions act.”)

If we get to the point when we are faced with a single option — war or a nuclear-armed Iran — there should be no doubt how we would have gotten to that point. Aside from the Iranians themselves, it would be solely the result of the administration’s sloth and foolishness. The consequence for the United States, Israel and the West more generally if Iran does get the bomb would be devastating. And Obama’s historical legacy (Clare Luce Booth’s one-sentence summary) will be: “Obama allowed Iran to get the bomb.”

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 12/02/2011

Categories:  Iran, Senate Democrats

 
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