The Washington Post

Senators demand Obama step up Iran policy

The Wall Street Journal has reported:

More than 90 U.S. senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama pressing him to sanction Iran’s central bank, with some threatening legislation to force the move, an outcome that would represent a stark escalation in tensions between the two countries.

Such a measure, if effectively implemented, could potentially freeze Iran out of the global financial system and make it nearly impossible for Tehran to clear billions of dollars in oil sales every month, said current and former U.S. officials.

Once again, we see that apparently no one in the administration is monitoring the results of our sanctions or pressing forward with new initiatives. What is the administration doing? “ ‘We are working really hard on the Iran challenge and have made unprecedented progress in mobilizing international pressure and sanctions,’ [an] official said.” Really hard. This is pathetic.

The senators agree with that evaluation:

In an interview, [Sen. Mark] Kirk said he would introduce a law by year’s end to enforce sanctions on Bank Markazi if the White House doesn’t move independently.

“The administration will face a choice of whether it wants to lead this effort or be forced to act,” Mr. Kirk said.

[Sen.Chuck] Schumer said the White House needed to utilize current legislation.

“It’s time for the administration to use the tools Congress has provided and choke off the money spigot,” he said in a statement.

The hang-up — no surprise — is that there is no — you got it! — international consensus. “U.S. officials have worried that unilateral Americans sanctions against Bank Markazi might not be respected by even some American allies. This could place Washington into the difficult position of either backing down or theoretically trying to ban important foreign companies and governments from using the U.S. financial system.”

Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies has been intimately involved in drafting sanctions legislation and in urging a series of escalating measures. He e-mailed me this morning:

When it comes to implementing tough measures to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, there is no longer a “third rail” that should prevent us from trying any measure to squeeze the regime. The Obama administration must target Iran’s crude oil sales, designate the Central Bank of Iran, and sanction the Chinese, Indian and other companies that continue to do business in Iran’s energy sector. We don’t have time for half measures and slow, incremental changes.

We can however target the Iranian regime in ways that won’t spook oil and financial markets, thereby driving up the price of oil and inadvertently enriching the Iranians. Smart sanctions include establishing the U.S. as an Iranian oil free zone so that no Iranian refined petroleum or petrochemical products enter our market as well as targeting companies which do business with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the crude oil supply chain. We could also hit the Central Bank of Iran on a “class of transactions” level instead of a blanket designation, for example, by sanctioning any international person involved in the issuance of Iranian sovereign debt, particularly, energy bonds, all Iranian government foreign exchange transactions, any investments by Iran’s sovereign wealth funds, and any provision of liquidity for Iranian banks or government ministries.

Certainly such ideas are not unknown to the Obama team, right? What is lacking is a sense of urgency, leadership to push ahead and a willingness to provide an alternative to military action. One senses that when the day draws near when our choices boil down to accepting a nuclear-weaponized Iran or undertaking military action, the Obama team will throw up its hands and exclaim: “You want us to go to war?! We don’t have an viable option here.” And at that point there will be no viable option to military action since the Obama administration will have spent years dawdling and throwing out one ineffective half-measure after another.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.


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