Despite the warnings from two administration officials that said a ban on transactions with Iran’s Central Bank was not what President Obama wanted, the Senate unanimously approved a Defense Department bill last evening with an amendment that contained the measure. Since the House of Representatives has already passed such a measure, which is aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear threat, President Obama will soon find the bill on his desk. But Obama need only to exercise his veto power in order to prevent the bank ban from going into effect.
Since the administration persuaded the Senate to water the amendment down by giving the president the power to waive enforcement of the law, the Iranians need not fear a swift shutdown of the oil income they get from transactions that are run through their Central Bank. With a six month waiting period before the measure goes into effect and with the president having the right to shelve the bill if he thinks it will hurt either the U.S. economy or that of its allies, it is unlikely the sanctions will ever go into effect.
As we noted yesterday, before being rebuked by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez for the duplicitous manner by which the administration procured the waivers now included in the measure, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
The Obama administration strongly supports increasing the pressure on Iran, and that includes properly designed and targeted sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, appropriately timed as part of a carefully phased and sustainable policy toward bringing about Iranian compliance with its obligations.
But the administration’s idea of “appropriate” timing was such that even the leeway allowed by the law was too much for them, and Sherman urged the Senate not to approve it. Their idea of a sanctions program aimed at the bank is one that would not force American allies to stop using it to buy oil from Iran. Which is another way of saying they don’t want the sanctions ever to go into effect.
The result was much the same when at a meeting of the European Union in Brussels the E.U. chose not to impose an embargo on oil purchases from Iran. Though sanctions were tightened on some Iranian individuals and institutions, the Union turned down the proposal from Britain and France for the imposition of the one measure that has the potential to bring the ayatollahs to heel. That the EU would still refuse to take action to cut off oil income to Iran the same week a mob sacked the British embassy in Tehran speaks volumes about its unwillingness to take action.
So for all the talk about sanctioning Iran in both Washington and Europe, the net result of this week’s discussion about the issue is effectively nothing. American legislators will be able to claim they did all they could while Obama continues to search for what the administration claims is a way to cut off dealings with Iran that will not upset anyone.
But no one in Tehran is fooled. Despite sabotage that may have slowed their progress, the failure of the United States to enforce existing sanctions as well as measures that would cut off the ayatollah’s oil income has allowed the Iranian scientists more time to get closer to giving the regime a nuclear weapon that will transform the Middle East for the worse as well as pose an existential threat to Israel’s existence. But all the West appears willing to do about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is talk about it.