The worst-kept secret in Washington is that the Obama administration never asked for and is indifferent if not hostile to the latest round of Iran sanctions. President Obama has claimed publicly to have put in place the toughest sanctions yet, but he hasn’t publicly or, according to congressional sources, privately tried to turn up the heat since he signed the Defense Authorization Act in December and the E.U. weighed in with its own sanctions.
No wonder that after seven months Congress has not reached agreement and sent to the White House additional sanctions first passed by the House in December.
The State Department, according to spokesman Edgar Vasquez, has “been working consistently with Congress by providing Administration views and information as Congress considers new sanctions legislation.” He warns, “Any provisions related to Iran must be precise and informed by the totality of our efforts in the sanctions domain so as to be complementary, and to achieve the desired effect of continuing to apply pressure on the Iranian regime.” In plain English, that is State Department-speak for “We can’t let amateurs mess this up.”
Congressional sources confirm that State, the Treasury Department and other representatives from the Obama team are working hand-in-glove with the Democratic staff on the Senate Banking Committee. There is, however, no effort whatsoever to combat the stall tactics of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Staffers pushing for swifter movement tell me there hasn’t been a single instance since the House acted last December where the administration attempted to expedite sanctions legislation.
State is quite convinced the administration has already done enough. Vasquez asserts: “Together with our international coalition, we have put in place the strongest sanctions that the Iranian government has ever faced. Even the Iranian regime’s leadership has talked of the ‘crippling’ effect sanctions have had on the Iranian economy.” He goes so far as to claim, “These sanctions have slowed Iran’s nuclear efforts, and they are having a significant impact on its currency and economy, which has ground to a halt. We’ve expanded these sanctions to further target Iran’s banking and petroleum sectors, and we will continue to ratchet up this pressure if Iran continues to violate its international obligations.” But the administration isn’t ratcheting up the pressure by insisting that sanctions get to Obama’s desk. Moreover, the evidence is that Iran has accelerated progress on its nuclear program.
Vasquez insists, “There is still time and space to achieve a peaceful resolution of Iran’s nuclear program. Sanctions pressure is an integral part of the dual track approach and it is clear that the onus is on Iran’s government to choose whether to live up to its obligations.” That is what the administration has been saying for more than three years.
Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies has been integrally involved in sanctions formulation. His take is very different than the State Department’s: “There is no denying that sanctions have had a devastating effect on Iran’s economy. But it’s still not enough to make the mullahs abandon their nuclear program. Even a staggering 39 percent drop in oil revenues compared with 2011 would still net Iran $44 billion this year, according to Reuters’s estimates. With between $60 billion and $105 billion in foreign currency reserves, [Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s economic expiration date — when his cash hoard falls low enough to set off a massive economic panic — may still be far off.”
Dubowitz recommends: “If Obama wants to bring that date closer, he should make it clear to the supreme leader that he will do everything in his power to destroy Iran’s energy wealth. Congress should adopt an idea contained in legislation introduced by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that would blacklist the entire Iranian energy sector as a ‘zone of primary proliferation concern,’ preventing international companies that do business in the United States or the European Union from doing business with it.”
This is necessary, he adds, to “counter aggressive Iranian attempts to subvert international sanctions. For the past seven years, the U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned hundreds of financial and commercial entities controlled by the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps], but Iran can spin off new front companies faster than Treasury officials can target them, conjuring up ‘clean’ entities with which international companies can maintain their business relationships.”
Yet it is crystal clear the administration isn’t interested in anything of the sort. The State Department believes those crippling sanctions are already in place. But that raises the question: Why hasn’t the Iranian nuclear program halted? Why has “diplomacy” collapsed?
We now know sanctions aren’t “working.” Either the administration should be pushing for more sanctions or it should acknowledge sanctions have failed. They can’t have it both ways so long as the centrifuges keep spinning.