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Monday, July 13, 2009

House defies Obama: Passes Iran sanctions

By an overwhelming vote, the US House of Representatives has added a provision to the annual foreign aid appropriation imposing limited sanctions on Iran. The measure was sponsored by Howard Berman (D-Cal.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and the vote in favor of it was an overwhelming 318-106.
While the Senate version - likely to be approved later this month - doesn't contain the Iran sanctions language, the House vote still gives a boost in entering the compromise version which the full Congress will ultimately need to vote on, expected some time this fall.


While the House has held off on legislation sponsored earlier this year by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, a Democrat from California, which would broadly sanction foreign companies that support Iran's petroleum industry, the foreign aid bill amendment the House approved on Thursday would cut off US export credits to foreign companies that help to provide gasoline to the Islamic republic.

"A political decision - really a diplomatic decision - has been made not to move forward with the Berman bill, but that doesn't mean Congress feels the activities that are targeted by the Berman bill are okay," explained a House aide, who noted that Berman and other key legislators agree with the White House's perspective that harsh sanctions could jeopardize the possibility of engagement with Teheran because they would send a strongly adversarial signal. The idea with Berman's bill is that the Iranian leadership should have an idea of what awaits them should engagement fail, at which point it would be advanced in Congress.

Still, the aide said, "It's very important that we continue to take these steps, target these companies, let them know that Congress does mean business, and that Congress is going to continue to nibble at the edges and when it comes time for the Berman bill to move forward, it's going to sting."

In keeping with that message, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California), who sponsored the legislation along with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), joined Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana) late last month in sending a letter to Royal Dutch Shell taking the massive multinational energy company to task for its dealings with Iran and using the threat of the broader sanctions to pressure the company to rethink its business practices, which they say include gasoline sales to Iran.

The letter pointed out that should the Berman legislation go through, Shell would be at risk of sanctions, and that the sanctions could lead to US assets being frozen, prohibitions on transactions utilizing dollars, and, "in general, Royal Dutch Shell could potentially be barred from carrying out any activity in the United States."

The letter also refers to a recent Shell shareholders meeting in which questions were asked about the country's Iran activities. "It is disturbing to some of us in the US Congress that Shell executives are refusing to provide answers to legitimate shareholders with the information they need to make informed investment decisions," the lawmakers wrote.

In what some members of Congress see as a troubling sign of Shell's actions, the company's own 2009 annual report notes that "for Iran, US law sets a limit of $20m. in any 12-month period on certain investments knowingly made in that country... While Shell did not exceed the limit on investments in Iran in 2008, we have exceeded it in the past and may exceed the US-imposed investment limits in Iran in the future."

Though the members of Congress have yet to receive a response from Shell, according to their offices, a company spokesman told The Jerusalem Post in response to a query that "we are aware of the letter and its contents."
While the sanctions are not all they can and should be, this is a start. Because it's part of a massive appropriations bill (more than $48 billion), it may not draw an Obama veto. Of course that assumes that the House provision makes it into the final bill, which is by no means certain.

Kirk, by the way, is very strongly pro-Israel, and will apparently be contesting President Obama's former Senate seat from Illinois in 2010. The seat is currently occupied by Democrat Roland Burris (who will not run for re-election) after Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was forced to resign for trying to sell the seat.


At 10:57 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

A Democratic Congress in a note of dissent from a President of their own party? Its driven by two factors: Obama's declining approval ratings and thre fact congresscritters have a far different view of political mortality than a President. Expect to see more of it as America enters the 2010 off-year election cycle.


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