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Menendez Blows Up Over Administration Opposition to Key Iran Sanction

The Obama administration has been portraying itself as a steadfast advocate of “crippling sanctions” against Iran in order to stop its nuclear threat. But it sent officials from both the State and Treasury Departments to a Senate hearing today to argue against the one measure that might actually make an impression on the ayatollahs. The reaction — which you can watch here on YouTube — from one normally loyal Obama supporter, was anger.

During the hearing, New Jersey Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez lectured the administration officials for having the chutzpah to come to Capitol Hill to try and oppose an amendment that would prohibit any American company from taking part in transactions with any foreign government or financial institution that does business with the Central Bank of Iran. Menendez, who co-sponsored the amendment with Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, was especially put out because he had agreed to water down the measure to provide waivers to the president (at the administration’s request) that would allow him to not enforce it. But after having engaged in good faith negotiations with the White House’s envoys, they still sought to torpedo the weaker bill the Senate was prepared to vote on.

The significance of the administration’s stand on this issue cannot be overestimated. Cutting off the flow of oil income is the only way the international community can stop Iran without the use of force. And the only way to do that is to make it illegal for any business to deal with Iran’s Central Bank, the institution that is the clearinghouse for all such transactions. But because they are afraid of the impact of such a ban on the price of oil and the impact that would have on the economy here and elsewhere, the administration won’t go along with it.

Menendez was right to be angry about being snookered into watering down his amendment. The waivers in the bill will give Obama the power to render the intent of Congress null and void. If it passes, and it surely will, as 80 of the Senate’s 100 members are co-sponsors, Obama can simply announce he’s decided the sanction will hurt the economy and use the waiver. Had Menendez rebuffed Obama’s pressure to include the waivers, the bill would have had to be enforced. The stated opposition of the State and Treasury Departments is a certain indicator that once it goes into law, the president will use the waivers to shelve it.

As I wrote yesterday, sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank is something Britain has already undertaken. France has stated its willingness to do so as well. So it’s not as if Obama is being asked to go out on a limb without the support of America’s allies.

The president’s refusal to pull the trigger on this vital sanction gives the lie to his many promises that he will never allow Iran to go nuclear. Menendez, a reliably liberal member of the Democratic caucus, now understands he was double-crossed by an administration that never had any interest in cutting off Iran’s oil income. The question for the rest of the Democratic Party, especially Obama’s Jewish defenders, is when they will wake up and demand the president start acting as if his vows on Iran are more than white lies employed to win their support.


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