Reuters reports on the reconciliation talks concerning legislation on Iran sanctions:
Congressional negotiators are trying to finish work on new sanctions aimed at further restricting Iran’s oil revenues, a package they hope to approve by the end of next week before lawmakers leave Washington for an extended recess.
The sanctions, which have been in the works for more than seven months, are designed to crack down on transactions with Iran’s national oil and tanker companies, and to hamper the ability of Iranian banks to transfer funds electronically. . . .
There are some complaints that draft language is too weak. An advocacy group that has pushed for stricter sanctions on Tehran said provisions to force financial messaging service providers to block Iranian banks from making electronic banking transfers had been watered down.
The group, United Against Nuclear Iran, wrote to Senator Tim Johnson, head of the Senate Banking Committee, on Wednesday, saying it was “concerned that the banking lobby has gutted these important provisions.”
The measure had initially been aimed at the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, but revised language was less specific.
The Belgium-based firm, owned by the world’s largest banks, announced in February it would expel certain Iranian banks from its system after pressure from U.S. lawmakers.
One congressional source said loopholes could derail a final sanctions deal.
Perhaps the lede should have been: “Sens. Harry M. Reid (D.-Nev.)and Tim Johnson (D.-S.D.) are trying to weaken sanctions to reward donors.” That is essentially what is going on, according to one report:
The legislation, which is currently working its way through the House, would tighten existing Iran sanctions by punishing any insurance company that underwrites activities that bolster the Iranian oil industry. Insurance providers could be sanctioned for underwriting shipping companies, cargo carriers, or airlines that have been subject to sanctions.
Johnson and Reid have each received nearly half-a-million dollars from individuals and political action committees affiliated with the insurance industry.
A pro-sanctions congressional source close to the discussions tells me: “The pressure from the administration and Harry Reid to water down sanctions is so intense that the final bill might not be worth much more than the paper it’s printed on. Will House Republicans really pass a sanctions bill filled with loopholes big enough to drive a pick-up truck through? The initial reaction by key opinion leaders in the Iran sanctions community will be the test of whether the bill wipes out on the House floor.”
A few points are worth noting. The sanctions legislation has been dragging on for seven months. At times, as with the Kirk-Menendez amendment, the administration has weighed in against stronger measures. Given all that, how can the president claim with a straight face, as he does frequently, that he is doing all he can to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran?
It is bizarre that the administration, which plainly doesn’t want to resort to military action, has been indifferent or actively hostile to swift implementation of those “crippling” sanctions. Is it sloth, or is there an affirmation policy of trying to slow down the sanctions train? Whatever the explanation, if the White House is serious, it should have long ago harangued lawmakers to get this done and told Reid in no uncertain terms that now is not the time to sublimate national security to the whims of big-monied special interest groups.