How serious is President Obama about denying Iran a nuclear weapon? His stated policy of sanctions and diplomacy is now apparently down to only diplomacy. Congress authorized more stringent sanctions against Iran which the president says he opposes.
On Thursday, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate passed 94-0. The new legislative language would blacklist Iran’s energy, port, shipping, and shipbuilding sectors, while also placing new restrictions on Iran’s ability to get insurance for all these industries. The legislation would also vastly expand U.S. support for human rights inside Iran and impose new sanctions on Iranians who divert humanitarian assistance from its intended purpose.
“The window is closing. The time for the waiting game is over,” Menendez said on the Senate floor Thursday night. “Yes, our sanctions are having a demonstrable effect on the Iranian economy, but Iran is still working just as hard to develop nuclear weapons.”
But the White House told several Senate offices Thursday evening that the administration was opposed to the amendment. National Security Spokesman Tommy Vietor sent The Cable the administration’s official position, explaining the White House’s view the sanctions aren’t needed and aren’t helpful at this time.
“As we focus with our partners on effectively implementing these efforts, we believe additional authorities now threaten to undercut these efforts,” he said. “We also have concerns with some of the formulations as currently drafted in the text and want to work through them with our congressional partners to make the law more effective and consistent with the current sanctions law to ensure we don’t undercut our success to date.”
An e-mail from the NSC’s legislative affairs office to some Senate Democrats late Thursday evening, obtained by The Cable, went into extensive detail about the administration’s concerns about the new sanctions legislation, including that it might get in the way of the administration’s efforts to implement the last round of Iran sanctions, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act (TRA), to which it flatly objected at the time.
Another reason given for opposition to the amendment by the White House is that there aren’t enough waivers in it:
One of the White House’s chief concerns is that Congress is not providing the administration enough waivers, which would give the United States the option of negating or postponing applications of the sanctions on a case-by-case basis.
The White House also said that secondary sanctions should apply only to those Iranian persons and entities that are guilty of aiding Iran’s nulear and missile programs. The new legislative language would designate entire categories of Iranian government entities to be sanctioned — whether or not each person or entity is directly involved in such activities.
“Case by case” or crony by crony? We’ve already granted a waiver to China on our oil sanctions so its not like what we’re doing has a lot of bite to it. No doubt the administration would like more waivers so that they could play “smart diplomacy” with not only China, but continue that wildly successful reset with Russia.
In the end, it won’t matter. The sanctions will take their bite out of the Iranian economy but they are so far along to achieving their goal of building a bomb that barring an economic collapse, they will make it with ease.