Sanctions and Trust

Does his own party trust him anymore on sanctions against Iran—or anything else?

In a letter to President Obama (formally to his Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner), two Senators, Robert Menendez (D, NJ), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics Affairs, and Mark Kirk (R, IL), Member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, felt constrained to remind Obama and his administration of Congress’ intent when it passed (and Obama signed into law) the recent Menendez-Kirk Amendment to the Comprehensive Iran Sanction, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISAD).  This amendment authorized oil and financial sanctions against Iran should Iran insist on continuing on their course to obtaining nuclear weapons.

We understand that the administration is drafting rules to guide the implementation of the law and we hereby seek to convey the legislative intent underlying certain terms and phrases in the amendment and to ensure that the positive developments that have occurred as a result of the amendment are buttressed  by the administrative rules[.]

The Senators opened their letter with the above.  Their concern arises from Obama’s attempt to eviscerate the amendment to CISAD while it was being developed, even though it was an amendment that Obama had urged and to which Menendez and Kirk had agreed, and then after that agreement, Obama’s repudiation of it (interestingly, following that repudiation the amendment passed the Senate by a 100-0 vote).  Menendez has separately advised Obama that, as a result of Obama’s…behavior, “This certainly undermines your relationship with me for the future.”

The Senators, via their letter, laid out the specifics of some of their concerns.  These included the administration’s definition of the “significant reductions” other nations might claim as a means of continuing to do business with Iran’s Central Bank and to trade for Iranian oil while avoiding the US response mandated by CISAD—the cutting off of those nations’ banks from the US economy.  The strict definition was laid out in that underlying law; the Senators do not trust the administration to hew to that definition in its new implementing rules.  The Senators spelled it out in their letter:

To ascribe more variable terminology to the definition of “significantly reduced” would diminish the ability of countries to understand and comply with the amendment.  An unevenly applied interpretation would also call into question the seriousness of the sanctions policy and send mixed signals to both Iran and our allies.

Menendez and Kirk also are concerned that Obama will use the “national security” waiver in the sanctions law to completely weasel out of applying the sanctions: they fear he won’t apply any waiver on a case-by-case basis, as the amendment requires, attempting instead a blanket waiver that prevents any sanctions anywhere.

It was not our intent that the term “waive the imposition of sanctions under paragraph (1)” as meaning only one waiver is needed to waive the imposition of all sanctions.  In other words, with one report to Congress, the President could decide that not institution will be subject to sanctions….

They concluded,

We would welcome an opportunity to discuss these points with you prior to the publication of the final rule for the Menendez-Kirk amendment.

The Senate no longer trusts this President; his own party no longer trusts him.  Where is the basis for trust on the part of anyone else?  In any event, Obama’s rules are due out this week.  Maybe we’ll see the effect of the Senators’ letter.

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