- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Business lobbies say they see the new Bush administration as a forceful ally in the campaign to curb the use of unilateral economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool.
The State Department is compiling a list of all the sanctions on the books, imposed by Congress and past administrations, following unexpectedly sharp criticism of the practice by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
At his Senate confirmation hearing this month, Mr. Powell said he was "astonished" by the number of countries subject to partial or total economic trading bans.
"There was just tab after tab in the briefing books," Mr. Powell said. "I would encourage Congress to step back for a while, count to 10, and call me" before imposing a new sanction.
"We were extremely encouraged and a little surprised at how strongly the secretary expressed himself," said Frank D. Kittredge, president of the Washington-based Foreign Trade Council, a business-funded group that has advocated sanctions reform.
"It has been awhile since a secretary of state has made such a straightforward statement on the issue," he said.
Critics of the practice say U.S. law is littered with sanctions, many dating back decades, seeking to punish countries for sins ranging from supporting terrorism to tolerating drug trafficking to catching dolphins in their tuna nets.
Sanctions have been applied to allies like Canada and Costa Rica and adversaries like Cuba and Iran. The Clinton administration in its first term alone approved unilateral economic measures to punish 35 countries, from Afghanistan to Yugoslavia, according to a study financed by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
"It's the easiest way to sound tough when you're dealing with some international outrage," said Marino Marcich, NAM assistant vice president for international affairs.
The NAM study, conducted in 1997, put the cost to the U.S. economy from unilateral sanctions at between $15 billion and $19 billion a year in lost sales and contracts, figures hotly disputed by sanctions supporters.
Proposed reforms include giving the president broad authority to waive unilateral sanctions, exemptions for food and medical exports, protection of existing contracts and a two-year "sunset" provision that would cause given sanctions to expire unless explicitly renewed.
"We don't oppose all economic sanctions, even unilateral ones," Mr. Marcich said. "But we do think sanctions should be the policy of last resort, not the first tool you reach for."
Business groups have an obvious interest in sanctions reform. USA-Engage, a leading anti-sanctions lobbying group, is funded by U.S. exporting companies.
But the use of economic sanctions has some powerful backers, too, starting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican.
Mr. Helms did not challenge Mr. Powell during the confirmation hearings, but he has tangled with business groups over the issue, calling their numbers "grossly inflated and intentionally misleading."
In a 1999 article in Foreign Affairs magazine, Mr. Helms argued that economic sanctions had helped bring down the Soviet Union, forced China and other nations into major trade concessions, and were a "linchpin of our nonproliferation policy."
"These lobbyists are fighting for business as usual with thugs, tyrants and terrorists," wrote Mr. Helms, whose committee blocked a bill last session designed to rein in the use of economic sanctions.
While railing against the general increase in sanctions, Mr. Powell did not single out any measure on the books. Any attempt to roll back existing sanctions, analysts say, virtually guarantees a nasty political fight with a highly focused opposition.
U.S. business and farm groups last year won an easing of long-standing restrictions on trade with Cuba, but anti-Castro Cuban-American groups managed to insert in the same legislation restrictive new conditions on public or private financing of any deals.
Human-rights groups, environmentalists and other ethnic groups also have rushed to defend targeted sanctions. Even as Mr. Powell was inveighing against the large number of sanctions generally, he told lawmakers he was determined to "re-energize" international sanctions against Iraq, saying they had effectively contained its leader, Saddam Hussein.
"Rolling back sanctions is a much more difficult task" than blocking new ones, said Meghan L. O'Sullivan, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively on the topic.
"I don't see us getting rid of sanctions as a policy, but in the Bush administration they may play a far less prominent role," she said.
Mr. Kittredge said he believed the debate was turning even before the new administration took office.
The use of unilateral sanctions fell sharply in Mr. Clinton's second term, he noted, and the number of lawmakers in the House receiving USA-Engage's top marks for their voting record jumped from 25 in 1998 to 120 in 2000 almost perfectly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
"And when you have figures like Secretary Powell and [Vice President] Dick Cheney making strong public statements against the practice, that has to help the political calculation," he said.
A spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and a co-sponsor of past bills to reform the sanctions process, said sanctions opponents were encouraged by Mr. Powell's remarks and that talks were under way in Congress to reintroduce a modified version of the bill that failed last year.
Stressing that no measure is imminent, the spokesman said: "We're trying to draft a bill that can be as broadly accepted as possible when it is introduced."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said last week that department officials were busy combing the statute books for "multiple and long lists of sanctions that exist in law" in an effort to "decide what could be done to make them more useful to the national interests."
But Mr. Boucher also stressed: "We don't have any results, conclusions or changes to announce yet."

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