Congress moves ahead on sanctions

Legislators weigh White House reservations over banning Iranian gas.

ahmadinejad Koran 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
ahmadinejad Koran 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – US legislators met to reconcile differences in the House and Senate versions of the Iran sanctions bill Wednesday, as they pressed forward with the measure in the face of administration reservations.
The Obama administration has expressed concern that the legislation could hurt multilateral efforts to get countries such as China and Russia on board with its long sought UN Security Council resolution slapping further sanctions on Iran.
The administration has also indicated it expects to see that resolution hammered out by the end of spring, or June 21, and has been working intensely with its UN colleagues to that end.
But the measures currently under consideration there are far weaker than the US bill, which would seek to bar gasoline imports to Iran by penalizing countries that supply it refined petroleum. Russia and China are key targets, but the US has been seeking exemptions for them so they won’t derail the UN effort, though both countries have yet to embrace tough measures there.
Congress has been reluctant to grant the exemption, but the final decision will be made by the conference committee that began work Wednesday.
Some members voiced strong reservations on any exemptions and softening of the measure.
“The security of our nation and our allies cannot afford for this conference to produce a bill that is so full of holes, carve-outs, exemptions or waivers that no one takes it seriously. We’ve been down that road before,” warned Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee during the conference meeting. “It is time for Congress to fill the vacuum created by executive branch inaction and enact crippling, mandatory sanctions that address the rapidly growing threat posed by Iran.”
“The idea of country-by-country waivers is absurd,” agreed Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade. “They will waive virtually every country unless they decide to simply ignore the law.”
He said that if the bill were to be “anything more than a mockery,” Congress would need to require reports, oversight and limits on appropriations.
In a separate move earlier this week, Sherman and 16 colleagues wrote to the president of Harvard in support of students who are urging the university to divest its holdings in companies involved with Iran’s energy sector.
Other members at the conference committee Wednesday suggested thattough legislation could strengthen the administration’s hand ratherthan weaken it.
“I want the toughest possible sanctions on Iran.I want unilateral sanctions. I want multilateral sanctions. I want UNSecurity Council-mandated sanctions. And I want these sanctions now,”declared Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York), chairman of the House ForeignAffairs Middle East subcommittee. “Today, we are going to move forwardon a sanctions bill that I believe will strengthen the Obamaadministration’s diplomatic hand. The world, and I mean both our alliesand others, needs to know that the United States is done waiting.”
The committee aims to have the final version of the bill completed by the end of next month.