Democrat resists diluting Iran sanctions

Panel’s ranking member spurns White House entreaties

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A top House Democrat said Thursday he will not cave to the Obama administration’s pressure to “dilute” proposed sanctions on Iran’s central bank.

Rep. Howard L. Berman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Congress “must set the pace” in dealing with Iran though he applauds the administration’s efforts to isolate the Islamic republic.

“If the administration is to be strong, the Congress must be stronger,” Mr. Berman told a forum sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“I will not - and Congress should not - give in to entreaties from the administration or elsewhere on the particular issue we’re now faced with to dilute our approach to sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran’s petroleum transactions.”

The Senate unanimously approved last Thursday a defense spending bill amendment that would penalize companies that deal with Iran’s central bank, which has become the bank of last resort for Iranian oil sales because of previous sanctions.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner wrote Senate leaders this month to express the administration’s “strong opposition” to the so-called Kirk-Menendez amendment.

It “threatens to undermine the effective, carefully phased, and sustainable approach we have undertaken to build strong international pressure on Iran,” Mr. Geithner said of the measure, adding that it could ultimately enrich Tehran.

Iran exports about 2.3 million barrels of oil a day and derives as much as 75 percent of its government revenue from oil sales.
The Obama administration fears that cutting Iran off from the world petroleum market could send oil prices soaring and threaten the global economic recovery.

Mr. Berman, one of the leading House supporters for sanctions, is working to shorten the amendment’s time frame for implementation from 180 days to 120, saying that time is running out for non-military means to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
“I will not - and Congress should not - give in to efforts to dilute this sense of urgency,” he said.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former analyst for the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, said the sanctions are likely to cripple the Iranian economy, but the collateral damage to the global economy is hard to predict.

“There is fear of spooking the markets. There’s a reason why this was considered a ‘nuclear option,’” he said.

“When I was at Treasury and we talked about ‘crippling sanctions’ there was always this sense of, ‘Are we sure we want to do this?’ If you end up destroying the Iranian economy and in the process crippling oil markets, what does that do? Nobody knows.”

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About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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