Putting Arrows in the Iran Quiver


The fanatic speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Durbin II Conference in Geneva, branding Israel as a “racist and genocidal state,” should help Congress approve bills introduced last week that would substantially toughen sanctions against the Iranian regime.


Senators Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. introduced a bill giving the Obama Administration far stronger tools to pressure the regime to give up its development of nuclear weapons. The JTA reports that in addition to Kyl, Bayh and Lieberman, nine Republicans (including Missouri’s senior U.S. Senator Christopher S. (Kit) Bond and 11 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Brad Sherman, D-Calif. and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and the House leadership is backing yet another bill that would facilitate divestment from Iran. The latter is modeled on a bill drafted by President Barack Obama as a U.S. Senator, and is due for consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, JTA reports.

The bills would target shippers, bankers and insurers who deal with Iran’s energy section, and in contrast to previous sanction efforts has real teeth. The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (H.R. 2194 in the House and S. 908 in the Senate) would limit Iran’s ability to import and produce refined petroleum products and require sanctions on companies helping Iran in these areas. The legislation would also reinforce American diplomatic efforts with Iran with the threat of tougher sanctions if Iran rejects U.S. overtures and continues to enrich uranium in defiance of the international community.

Bayh said the new, tougher legislation would “give the President a powerful tool…This is our best effort to do something about Iran’s nuclear weapons potential short of military force.” In remarks to the pro-Israel media watchdog group CAMERA, Lieberman warned that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran would pose a serious threat to Israel and Arab nations. He indicated the bill would strengthen the Obama Administration’s efforts to gain Iranian concessions through increased diplomatic outreach.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said also that he does not believe diplomacy alone would be effective unless it is backed by “the muscle of sanctions.” And Dennis Ross, the President’s Middle East negotiator who informs Iran policy, said during the presidential campaign that a “carrots and sticks” policy is needed. Ross is taking a tour of Egypt and the Persian Gulf states to further the administration’s connection with more moderate elements in Iran as the June elections approach. Moderate presidential candidates have emerged who might reverse Ahamdinijad’s policies of Holocaust denial and constant threats against Israel.

The bill has received the strong endorsement of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which lobbies for Israel in Washington. AIPAC spokesman Josh Block, told JTA: “If Iran doesn’t act rapidly to suspend its enrichment and other illicit nuclear work, the U.S. and our allies must be prepared to induce Iranian compliance by targeting Iran’s economic and structural vulnerabilities. This bill gives President Obama the tools to do just that.”

According to AIPAC spokesperson Josh Block, the White House has welcomed the proposed Iran sanctions bill and the U.S. State Department supports it. There is no major U.S. or Israeli governmental opposition to the proposed bills. Some on the left have objected that the tougher sanctions could complicate diplomatic outreach efforts to moderate elements in Iran, while some on the right feel the legislative efforts do not go far enough. In truth, the legislation, which has broad bipartisan support across the Congressional ideological spectrum, strikes just the right balance between these poles. The tougher sanctions in the new bill would empower President Obama to tighten the economic screws on the Iranian regime even while diplomatic efforts go forward.

We strongly endorse the legislative efforts and urge readers to advocate for passage by contacting their elected officials. A nuclear Iran or a military effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons could gravely threaten not only the Middle East but also the entire world. Passage of essential legislation might be the last best chance of stopping unthinkably dangerous alternatives.