WASHINGTON – The progress on getting an Iran sanctions resolution through the UN Security Council will likely delay approval of unilateral US sanctions pending in Congress, members have told The Jerusalem Post.
At the same time, they stressed the determination of Congress to push through tough measures that go beyond what the White House has signaled it supports.
The House and Senate are currently meeting to reconcile versions of the Iran sanctions bill already passed by each chamber, both of which seek to bar gasoline imports to Iran by penalizing foreign companies supplying refined petroleum.
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Originally, members hoped to get a reconciled bill to final vote by Memorial Day next Monday, a timeline that staff at the time conceded was highly ambitious.
Now, though, several members and their aides have told the Post that the prospect of a UN resolution means that Congress probably won’t approve any sanctions package until after the Security Council votes, assuming it stays on track to do so by the end of June, as the administration has pledged.
Congress had been pushing hard for its sanctions measure in the face of administration opposition while the Security Council process dragged under objections from Russia and China. But with the two countries – who were the only Security Council holdouts with veto power – signing on to a draft this week, the administration’s desire to let the UN process play out first has gained momentum.
“There’s an understanding that the administration can buy itself a couple of weeks,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California), a member of the conference committee, told the Post.
“The reconciliation process is related to the efforts to achieve a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran,” said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey). “If the Security Council resolution is imminent, the reconciliation will be put off until we can judge the consequences of that Security Council resolution.”
Even the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer – who said of the bill on Tuesday that “we hope it will move out of conference this week and be on the floor next week” – noted the process had been drawn out since then.
The administration has publicly been reserved in its criticism of the bill, and the White House did not response to a request for comment from the Post by press time on Thursday. But members of Congress who have been in touch with the administration say they have no doubt that the executive branch wants to see the bill held back until after the Security Council vote.
The administration has made the argument that a unilateral sanctions bill, particularly one that targets companies from foreign countries like Russia and China that the White House wants to get on board with UN sanctions, could sabotage the multilateral process.
Though the Security Council would only impose relatively mild sanctions on Iran, the administration sees the platform as essential for demonstrating global unity to better isolate Iran and as legitimizing further unilateral steps by the US and other countries.
To that end, the administration is understood to be urging that the bill not be approved until after the Security Council vote. It also wants to include a provision that “cooperating countries” – potentially including China and Russia – could be exempted if the White House desires.
“The administration has enough clout to keep up from adopting a real strong bill this month because so many things are moving with the UN and they can make that argument,” said Sherman, who despite the urgency he sees in imposing sanctions, would prefer waiting to vote on the sanctions bill until after the UN vote so that it would be a strong version with no potential exemptions for Russia and China.
“If Congress gives the administration more time, it is more likely to keep the bill as tough if not tougher than it was when it was passed by both chambers,” explained one congressional staffer of the tradeoff being considered.
He added that any delay would be short and depend on the Security Council to vote as anticipated by the end of June: “If we do delay, we’re not going to be able to delay again, so this is the last extension, if you will.”
Also Thursday, the House approved $205 million in new funding for
Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense project
by a vote of 410-4. The
project is being developed to protect civilians, primarily along the
Gaza Strip and Lebanese border, from short-range rockets and mortar
On Wednesday, the State Department also announce it had donated $1.4
million for construction of a community center in a Palestinian refugee
camp in Syria, and to provide 20 Harley Davidson motorcycles to the
Lebanese National Police.