Commentary Magazine


Topic: energy sector

The Beginning of the End of Swiss ‘Active Neutrality’?

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

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Israel, Iran, and Senate Races

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

To his credit, Ron Kampeas reverses course and supports Mark Kirk’s push-back against the assertions made by Democratic surrogates that Kirk had nothing to do with the sanctions bill. It seems as though other reports had the goods:

Let me revise my assessment Monday of the smackdown between Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), running for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat, is not a win for Kirk on points — it’s a knockout, for Kirk.

Folks intimately involved in preparing Kirk’s  bill sanctioning Iran’s energy sector have contacted me (and not Republicans) — and they say it indeed provided the template for Berman’s original sanctions bill. Berman says Kirk’s claims that he framed the bill are wrong, and that Kirk had nothing to do with the bill.

He continues that “I gather some of the same folks reached out to Foreign Policy The Cable’s Josh Rogin, and he had the more thorough version up first” — which actually cited JTA’s own reporting. Kudos for reversing field, but perhaps next time Kampeas can reach out to the out-reachers to confirm the facts before he writes his column.

Kampeas might consider a walk-back on his assessment of Joe Sestak as well. Kampeas thinks the newest ECI ad is too tough, asserting: “Sestak is a consistent yes vote on pro-Israel legislation so ‘record of hostility’ would seem to overstate it, even for a partisan release.” It’s really not. In fact, when Sestak asserted that he had a 100 percent pro-AIPAC voting record, Jewish officials struck back hard. A Jewish official reached out to Ben Smith on that one:

“There are serious concerns about Joe Sestak’s record related to Israel throughout the pro-Israel community,” said an official with a major pro-Israel organization in Washington. “Not only has he said that Chuck Hagel is the Senator he admires most, which is unusual enough, but when comes to actual decisions that have affected Israel and our relationship with them, he has gone the wrong way several times. It’s the height of chutzpah for him to suggest he has a good record, let alone a 100 percent one, on these issues.”

Are the ECI and RJC ads tough? Yes. Do they accurately depict Sestak and reflect deep concern regarding his record by pro-Israel activists, including many Democrats? Absolutely.

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Bibi-Obama Presser

The presser was long on platitudes and short on specifics. To reaffirm the “special relationship” (actually a term generally used for the U.S.-British relationship, which is less than special these days) is nice. Obama disputed that he had tried to distance the U.S. from Israel — entirely disingenuous but generally a good idea to close the public distance between the two countries. As the New York Times reports:

The two leaders were not specific about what “concrete steps” Mr. Netanyahu could take to move the peace talks along, though Mr. Obama seemed to suggest a timetable when he said it was his hope that direct talks would begin “well before” a moratorium on settlement construction expires this fall. The president said he believed that Mr. Netanyahu was “willing to take risks for peace.”

Informed observers really aren’t buying that much has changed:

Even so, Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator, said that Tuesday’s session at the White House reflected a “false calm” in the relationship.

“It’s symptomatic of the fact that neither man right now has a stake in a fight, a crisis, and both in fact have stakes in wanting to demonstrate that this relationship is functional,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he saw a “fundamental expectations gap” between the two leaders.

Netanyahu seemed pleased about the progress on sanctions against Iran, but there was not much new on that most critical issue:

Obama also asked Iran to “cease its provocative behavior,” and said that “as a consequence of hard work, internationally the toughest sanctions ever have been put on Iran, in addition to [the US's] robust sanctions.”

“We will continue to pressure Iran,” Obama added.

“We will work together against new threats,” Netanyahu said. “The biggest threat is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. I appreciate the president’s work. I urge other leaders to follow the U.S. and pass tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector.”

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

The presser was long on platitudes and short on specifics. To reaffirm the “special relationship” (actually a term generally used for the U.S.-British relationship, which is less than special these days) is nice. Obama disputed that he had tried to distance the U.S. from Israel — entirely disingenuous but generally a good idea to close the public distance between the two countries. As the New York Times reports:

The two leaders were not specific about what “concrete steps” Mr. Netanyahu could take to move the peace talks along, though Mr. Obama seemed to suggest a timetable when he said it was his hope that direct talks would begin “well before” a moratorium on settlement construction expires this fall. The president said he believed that Mr. Netanyahu was “willing to take risks for peace.”

Informed observers really aren’t buying that much has changed:

Even so, Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator, said that Tuesday’s session at the White House reflected a “false calm” in the relationship.

“It’s symptomatic of the fact that neither man right now has a stake in a fight, a crisis, and both in fact have stakes in wanting to demonstrate that this relationship is functional,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he saw a “fundamental expectations gap” between the two leaders.

Netanyahu seemed pleased about the progress on sanctions against Iran, but there was not much new on that most critical issue:

Obama also asked Iran to “cease its provocative behavior,” and said that “as a consequence of hard work, internationally the toughest sanctions ever have been put on Iran, in addition to [the US's] robust sanctions.”

“We will continue to pressure Iran,” Obama added.

“We will work together against new threats,” Netanyahu said. “The biggest threat is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. I appreciate the president’s work. I urge other leaders to follow the U.S. and pass tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector.”

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

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Beyond Sanctions

There was bipartisan praise for the sanctions resolution that emerged from the long-delayed House-Senate conference committee. AIPAC cheered the passage of the “toughest sanctions ever passed.” Its news release asserted:

The new legislation seeks to exploit Iranian economic vulnerabilities in order to persuade Iran’s regime to curtail its nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism. CISAD [the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act] explicitly targets the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), requiring financial sanctions on entities that facilitate any IRGC activity. CISAD also mandates broad financial sanctions on any entity involved with Iran’s nuclear weapons program or support for terrorism. CISAD seeks to limit investments in Iran’s energy sector by sanctioning offending companies and barring them from federal contracts. The bill presumes denial of export licenses to countries permitting sensitive technology diversions to Iran. CISAD also prohibits U.S. nuclear technology export licenses to any country assisting Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit.

CISAD provides the President with a narrow diplomatic window to significantly curb Iran’s refined petroleum imports and its ability to expand its own refinery operations; if diplomacy fails, the President must impose sanctions on companies in violation of CISAD.

But what do sanctions really mean at this stage? Not all that much, as this report explains:

Senior US officials have acknowledged that newly imposed sanctions against Iran would not be enough to end its quest for nuclear capabilities, but told Congress that the approach was bearing fruit.

“It will certainly not change the calculations of the Iranian leadership overnight, nor is it a panacea,” William Burns, under-secretary for political affairs at the State Department, said of US-backed sanctions passed by the UN Security Council earlier this month during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But it is a mark of the potential effect that Iran has worked so hard in recent months to avert action in the Security Council and tried so hard to deflect or divert the steps that are now under way.”

And the administration still wishes to see changes to the sanctions deal:

“We will continue to work with the Congress over the coming days as it finalizes work on this important bill, and in our ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in a statement.

The administration has long had reservations that the legislation would restrict the president’s ability to provide exemptions to countries considered helpful on international sanctions and which he would not want to alienate.

“It is no secret that our international partners contain their enthusiasm for extra-territorial applications of US legislation, and that’s why we continue to work closely with you and your colleagues to try to ensure that the measures are going to be targeted in a way that maximizes the goal here,” Burns told the Senate panel.

So to sum up, we have UN sanctions and are on the verge of passing unilateral sanctions. What we don’t have is an effective, timely means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program. As Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative explained via e-mail, “The bottom line with this is that it is good it is finally moving and will become law, but in reality, the impact will be minimal.”

We had other options — vigorous support for the Green Movement, a full-court press to isolate Iran diplomatically, and the use of force (or the realistic threat of force) — but instead Obama chose prolonged “engagement” and sanctions that are unlikely to slow progress on Iran’s nuclear program.

The administration must now be pressed to answer two questions: how will we know if sanctions are working? And what are we prepared to do if they don’t? One suspects the administration doesn’t have a ready answer for either and that neither Congress nor Jewish groups are all that eager to pose them. But both lawmakers and Jewish groups need to keep their eyes on the ball. The goal here was not to pass sanctions; the goal was to stop Iran from going nuclear. The former is means to the end, although “smart” diplomats often get confused when asked to distinguish between lovely paper documents and effective policy.

Those who cannot conceive of an effective “containment” policy for a nuclear Iran had better think ahead. Unless they begin to forcefully press the administration to think about options if and when sanctions fail and to commit to supporting Israel in the event that the Jewish state is forced to act on its own, they will be ill prepared for the day when Obama, as he certainly will,  moves from deterrence to containment and announces: “We tried everything we could but we told you sanctions might not work.”

There was bipartisan praise for the sanctions resolution that emerged from the long-delayed House-Senate conference committee. AIPAC cheered the passage of the “toughest sanctions ever passed.” Its news release asserted:

The new legislation seeks to exploit Iranian economic vulnerabilities in order to persuade Iran’s regime to curtail its nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism. CISAD [the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act] explicitly targets the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), requiring financial sanctions on entities that facilitate any IRGC activity. CISAD also mandates broad financial sanctions on any entity involved with Iran’s nuclear weapons program or support for terrorism. CISAD seeks to limit investments in Iran’s energy sector by sanctioning offending companies and barring them from federal contracts. The bill presumes denial of export licenses to countries permitting sensitive technology diversions to Iran. CISAD also prohibits U.S. nuclear technology export licenses to any country assisting Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit.

CISAD provides the President with a narrow diplomatic window to significantly curb Iran’s refined petroleum imports and its ability to expand its own refinery operations; if diplomacy fails, the President must impose sanctions on companies in violation of CISAD.

But what do sanctions really mean at this stage? Not all that much, as this report explains:

Senior US officials have acknowledged that newly imposed sanctions against Iran would not be enough to end its quest for nuclear capabilities, but told Congress that the approach was bearing fruit.

“It will certainly not change the calculations of the Iranian leadership overnight, nor is it a panacea,” William Burns, under-secretary for political affairs at the State Department, said of US-backed sanctions passed by the UN Security Council earlier this month during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But it is a mark of the potential effect that Iran has worked so hard in recent months to avert action in the Security Council and tried so hard to deflect or divert the steps that are now under way.”

And the administration still wishes to see changes to the sanctions deal:

“We will continue to work with the Congress over the coming days as it finalizes work on this important bill, and in our ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in a statement.

The administration has long had reservations that the legislation would restrict the president’s ability to provide exemptions to countries considered helpful on international sanctions and which he would not want to alienate.

“It is no secret that our international partners contain their enthusiasm for extra-territorial applications of US legislation, and that’s why we continue to work closely with you and your colleagues to try to ensure that the measures are going to be targeted in a way that maximizes the goal here,” Burns told the Senate panel.

So to sum up, we have UN sanctions and are on the verge of passing unilateral sanctions. What we don’t have is an effective, timely means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program. As Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative explained via e-mail, “The bottom line with this is that it is good it is finally moving and will become law, but in reality, the impact will be minimal.”

We had other options — vigorous support for the Green Movement, a full-court press to isolate Iran diplomatically, and the use of force (or the realistic threat of force) — but instead Obama chose prolonged “engagement” and sanctions that are unlikely to slow progress on Iran’s nuclear program.

The administration must now be pressed to answer two questions: how will we know if sanctions are working? And what are we prepared to do if they don’t? One suspects the administration doesn’t have a ready answer for either and that neither Congress nor Jewish groups are all that eager to pose them. But both lawmakers and Jewish groups need to keep their eyes on the ball. The goal here was not to pass sanctions; the goal was to stop Iran from going nuclear. The former is means to the end, although “smart” diplomats often get confused when asked to distinguish between lovely paper documents and effective policy.

Those who cannot conceive of an effective “containment” policy for a nuclear Iran had better think ahead. Unless they begin to forcefully press the administration to think about options if and when sanctions fail and to commit to supporting Israel in the event that the Jewish state is forced to act on its own, they will be ill prepared for the day when Obama, as he certainly will,  moves from deterrence to containment and announces: “We tried everything we could but we told you sanctions might not work.”

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Impotent Measures Against Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won grudging praise even from the Wall Street Journal editorial board for managing to reach agreement with China and Russia on a UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran. That accomplishment was touted as undercutting Iran’s attempts to avoid a fresh round of sanctions by agreeing to export some of its enriched uranium in a deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. But now the details of the sanctions resolution are emerging and they are even worse than expected.

As the New York Times notes, “What is notably absent from the draft resolution, however, is any binding restriction on transactions with Iran’s central bank.” Nor is there any binding language limiting Iran’s oil trade, the basis of its entire rotten regime. As the Wall Street Journal notes: “The resolution — which followed 20 rounds of ‘hard bargaining,’ said Chinese diplomats quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency — puts no direct restrictions on investing in Iran’s energy sector. That should allow Chinese oil companies to continue working in Iran, and China to continue consuming Iranian oil. Iran was the third-biggest supplier of oil to China last year after Saudi Arabia and Angola.” Oh, and the sanctions resolution even lacks a total ban on weapons sales to Iran.

That rather undercuts the Obama administration’s naive rationale for reaching out to the mullahs last year even as their own people were rebelling against them. The administration claimed that an outreach effort in good faith would make it easier to rally world opinion in favor of tough sanctions. Skeptics (myself included) were never convinced that countries like Russia and China would agree to binding sanctions under any circumstances. That skepticism certainly seems warranted now.

Given the weak nature of the latest sanctions resolution, one wonders, “What’s the point?” Certainly no serious analyst can possibly imagine that this will stop the Iranians from going nuclear. At most it provides a talking point for the administration to claim that it’s doing something about Iran’s nuclear program while in fact avoiding tough action – such as imposing sanctions on Shell, Total, and other Western oil companies that, according to the Wall Street Journal, continue to trade with Iran. Such sanctions are already possible under the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which would be strengthened by legislation that has already passed both houses. But the Obama administration shows no interest in implementing such tough measures. Instead, we are left with empty posturing. One suspects that the president has already decided that a nuclear Iran is a done deal and that the U.S. should concentrate on containment and deterrence rather than on prevention. If so, I wish the White House would just come out and say so rather than pretending that this new sanctions resolution will achieve anything.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won grudging praise even from the Wall Street Journal editorial board for managing to reach agreement with China and Russia on a UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran. That accomplishment was touted as undercutting Iran’s attempts to avoid a fresh round of sanctions by agreeing to export some of its enriched uranium in a deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. But now the details of the sanctions resolution are emerging and they are even worse than expected.

As the New York Times notes, “What is notably absent from the draft resolution, however, is any binding restriction on transactions with Iran’s central bank.” Nor is there any binding language limiting Iran’s oil trade, the basis of its entire rotten regime. As the Wall Street Journal notes: “The resolution — which followed 20 rounds of ‘hard bargaining,’ said Chinese diplomats quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency — puts no direct restrictions on investing in Iran’s energy sector. That should allow Chinese oil companies to continue working in Iran, and China to continue consuming Iranian oil. Iran was the third-biggest supplier of oil to China last year after Saudi Arabia and Angola.” Oh, and the sanctions resolution even lacks a total ban on weapons sales to Iran.

That rather undercuts the Obama administration’s naive rationale for reaching out to the mullahs last year even as their own people were rebelling against them. The administration claimed that an outreach effort in good faith would make it easier to rally world opinion in favor of tough sanctions. Skeptics (myself included) were never convinced that countries like Russia and China would agree to binding sanctions under any circumstances. That skepticism certainly seems warranted now.

Given the weak nature of the latest sanctions resolution, one wonders, “What’s the point?” Certainly no serious analyst can possibly imagine that this will stop the Iranians from going nuclear. At most it provides a talking point for the administration to claim that it’s doing something about Iran’s nuclear program while in fact avoiding tough action – such as imposing sanctions on Shell, Total, and other Western oil companies that, according to the Wall Street Journal, continue to trade with Iran. Such sanctions are already possible under the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which would be strengthened by legislation that has already passed both houses. But the Obama administration shows no interest in implementing such tough measures. Instead, we are left with empty posturing. One suspects that the president has already decided that a nuclear Iran is a done deal and that the U.S. should concentrate on containment and deterrence rather than on prevention. If so, I wish the White House would just come out and say so rather than pretending that this new sanctions resolution will achieve anything.

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Too Busy to Enforce Sanctions

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

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Containment Is Coming

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami –  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.’” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami –  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.’” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

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Any Deal, However Meaningless

In case you were momentarily hopeful that the “agreement” with China to pursue sanctions against Iran was real or that “pass sanctions in the Spring” meant sometime soon, think again. This report explains:

The United States is pressing the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, allow foreign states to seize Iranian ships suspected of carrying materials linked to its nuclear program, and curtail Tehran’s ability to raise new investment in the country’s energy sector, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the confidential text of the proposed resolution. . . .

China objected strenuously to the U.S. proposal for sanctions on energy investments during a big-power meeting on the text last week in New York, and insisted that it would not accept any provisions that challenged its commercial interests in Iran, according to council diplomats. But Beijing has begun to engage in direct negotiations, offering some suggestions this week on how the United States should modify its text.

The developments follow a high-level meeting in Washington on Monday between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. After the meeting, U.S. officials said that Obama received a commitment from Hu to continue negotiations on a new sanctions resolution. But the Chinese have yet to agree to endorse any specific measures against Tehran.

And the timing of this? “U.S. officials hope to adopt a sanctions resolution punishing Iran for its nuclear activities before the end of April, but some council officials said it was more likely it would pass in June.” These time frames have a way of slipping, we’ve learned.

Clearly, diplomats love to make deals and the focus is now on getting an international agreement, any agreement. But this is different from doing something calculated to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. That’s not in the realm of consideration here. We know petroleum sanctions aren’t even on the Obami’s wish list and now we must tiptoe around China’s economic interests. The mismatch between means and ends is vast. The Iranians can see that even if Obama refuses to.

In case you were momentarily hopeful that the “agreement” with China to pursue sanctions against Iran was real or that “pass sanctions in the Spring” meant sometime soon, think again. This report explains:

The United States is pressing the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, allow foreign states to seize Iranian ships suspected of carrying materials linked to its nuclear program, and curtail Tehran’s ability to raise new investment in the country’s energy sector, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the confidential text of the proposed resolution. . . .

China objected strenuously to the U.S. proposal for sanctions on energy investments during a big-power meeting on the text last week in New York, and insisted that it would not accept any provisions that challenged its commercial interests in Iran, according to council diplomats. But Beijing has begun to engage in direct negotiations, offering some suggestions this week on how the United States should modify its text.

The developments follow a high-level meeting in Washington on Monday between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. After the meeting, U.S. officials said that Obama received a commitment from Hu to continue negotiations on a new sanctions resolution. But the Chinese have yet to agree to endorse any specific measures against Tehran.

And the timing of this? “U.S. officials hope to adopt a sanctions resolution punishing Iran for its nuclear activities before the end of April, but some council officials said it was more likely it would pass in June.” These time frames have a way of slipping, we’ve learned.

Clearly, diplomats love to make deals and the focus is now on getting an international agreement, any agreement. But this is different from doing something calculated to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. That’s not in the realm of consideration here. We know petroleum sanctions aren’t even on the Obami’s wish list and now we must tiptoe around China’s economic interests. The mismatch between means and ends is vast. The Iranians can see that even if Obama refuses to.

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Uh Oh, Here Come the “Smart” Sanctions

Whenever diplomats use the word “smart” these days, something dumb is going on. From the START-signing ceremony, AP reports:

Looming over the celebration was Iran, which in the face of international pressures continues to assert that its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, not for weapons as suspected. Six powers — the US Russia, Britain, France, Germany and now China — are in talks in New York about a fourth set of United Nations sanctions to pressure Iran into compliance.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to this,” Medvedev said in a show of solidarity. But he said he was frank with Obama about how far Russia was willing to go, favoring only what he called “smart” sanctions that might have hope of changing behavior.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov later elaborated by saying, for example, that Russia would not endorse a total embargo on the delivery of refined petroleum products into Iran. Such products might be targeted in other ways, or sanctions on Iran’s energy sector might be avoided altogether to avoid running into deal-breaking opposition from Russia or China.

Like the Obami’s “smart” diplomacy, there is nothing “smart” about nibbling sanctions that don’t present the mullahs with a real choice: their own political survival or the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Only when the former is put at risk by severe sanctions and/or other pressure will they give up the latter. The Russians have apparently been enlisted in (or is it the other way around?) Obama’s scheme to go through the motions of sanctions, without any serious hope of affecting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. This is simply engagement in another guise — a grand stall putting off the moment when the U.S. must finally decide if “unacceptable” is really all that unacceptable.

Whenever diplomats use the word “smart” these days, something dumb is going on. From the START-signing ceremony, AP reports:

Looming over the celebration was Iran, which in the face of international pressures continues to assert that its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, not for weapons as suspected. Six powers — the US Russia, Britain, France, Germany and now China — are in talks in New York about a fourth set of United Nations sanctions to pressure Iran into compliance.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to this,” Medvedev said in a show of solidarity. But he said he was frank with Obama about how far Russia was willing to go, favoring only what he called “smart” sanctions that might have hope of changing behavior.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov later elaborated by saying, for example, that Russia would not endorse a total embargo on the delivery of refined petroleum products into Iran. Such products might be targeted in other ways, or sanctions on Iran’s energy sector might be avoided altogether to avoid running into deal-breaking opposition from Russia or China.

Like the Obami’s “smart” diplomacy, there is nothing “smart” about nibbling sanctions that don’t present the mullahs with a real choice: their own political survival or the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Only when the former is put at risk by severe sanctions and/or other pressure will they give up the latter. The Russians have apparently been enlisted in (or is it the other way around?) Obama’s scheme to go through the motions of sanctions, without any serious hope of affecting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. This is simply engagement in another guise — a grand stall putting off the moment when the U.S. must finally decide if “unacceptable” is really all that unacceptable.

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Give Green a Chance

The Obama administration is working to convince the United Nations Security Council to impose yet another round of sanctions on Iran. Those efforts have to overcome the recalcitrance of China, Russia, and other Security Council members. But even if the effort succeeds, how much impact will it have? To judge by the historical evidence, not much. The New York Times ran a fascinating article last Sunday with a horrifying headline that sums it all up: “U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran.”

The article examines the implementation of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 — legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton that is far tougher than anything the Security Council might approve. It imposes, in theory at least, major American sanctions on companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector or its nuclear or missile programs:

The law gives the president a menu of possible punishments he can choose to levy against offending companies. Not only do they risk losing federal contracts, but they can also be prevented from receiving Export-Import Bank loans, obtaining American bank loans over $10 million in a given year, exporting their goods to the United States, purchasing licensed American military technology and, in the case of financial firms, serving as a primary dealer in United States government bonds or as a repository for government funds.

It is well known that not a single company has actually been sanctioned under the act. The administrations of Clinton, Bush (yes Bush!), and Obama have all refused to act in ways that might hinder relations with the European Union, China, Japan, India, or other countries whose firms do big business in Iran. But the Times account makes clear that the situation is even more ludicrous. Far from sanctioning companies doing business with Iran, the federal government has awarded them “more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade.”

Both houses of Congress recently have passed legislation, now heading for reconciliation, that will toughen up the existing sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. But if existing sanctions aren’t being enforced, what hope is there for future sanctions, whether they come from Congress or the United Nations? The U.S. and its allies simply have not displayed the will to get tough with Iran. With time running short before Iran has the capability to field nukes, it’s time to look at other alternatives — starting with more support for the Green Movement. Between 2003 and 2009, we spent an average of more than $100 billion a year on the Iraq war. Imagine what only a small portion of that that money — say $10 billion, or one month’s worth of operations in Iraq — could achieve if given to groups working for the peaceful overthrow of the Iranian regime. That, to me, seems a more rewarding approach than sanctions, which have failed time and again.

The Obama administration is working to convince the United Nations Security Council to impose yet another round of sanctions on Iran. Those efforts have to overcome the recalcitrance of China, Russia, and other Security Council members. But even if the effort succeeds, how much impact will it have? To judge by the historical evidence, not much. The New York Times ran a fascinating article last Sunday with a horrifying headline that sums it all up: “U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran.”

The article examines the implementation of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 — legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton that is far tougher than anything the Security Council might approve. It imposes, in theory at least, major American sanctions on companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector or its nuclear or missile programs:

The law gives the president a menu of possible punishments he can choose to levy against offending companies. Not only do they risk losing federal contracts, but they can also be prevented from receiving Export-Import Bank loans, obtaining American bank loans over $10 million in a given year, exporting their goods to the United States, purchasing licensed American military technology and, in the case of financial firms, serving as a primary dealer in United States government bonds or as a repository for government funds.

It is well known that not a single company has actually been sanctioned under the act. The administrations of Clinton, Bush (yes Bush!), and Obama have all refused to act in ways that might hinder relations with the European Union, China, Japan, India, or other countries whose firms do big business in Iran. But the Times account makes clear that the situation is even more ludicrous. Far from sanctioning companies doing business with Iran, the federal government has awarded them “more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade.”

Both houses of Congress recently have passed legislation, now heading for reconciliation, that will toughen up the existing sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. But if existing sanctions aren’t being enforced, what hope is there for future sanctions, whether they come from Congress or the United Nations? The U.S. and its allies simply have not displayed the will to get tough with Iran. With time running short before Iran has the capability to field nukes, it’s time to look at other alternatives — starting with more support for the Green Movement. Between 2003 and 2009, we spent an average of more than $100 billion a year on the Iraq war. Imagine what only a small portion of that that money — say $10 billion, or one month’s worth of operations in Iraq — could achieve if given to groups working for the peaceful overthrow of the Iranian regime. That, to me, seems a more rewarding approach than sanctions, which have failed time and again.

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Annals of Disengagement

On Tuesday, Siemens, the German conglomerate, announced in its annual shareholders meeting that it has reduced its commercial ties with Iran. The next day, a company spokesman made that statement a bit more explicit: the company, he said, has “decided not to conclude new contracts with commercial partners in Iran.”

That leaves a lot of wiggle room – Siemens is free to conclude new contracts with government entities in Iran, free to carry on with its existing contracts, and free to conclude new ones until its self-imposed deadline of mid-2010 rolls around. And it does nothing to meet criticism from German human-rights advocates that Siemens sells to states like China, knowing that China will then resell to Iran. But it is, at least, a tiny sign that Siemens is feeling the heat. About time too, given Europe’s commercial complicity with the Iranian regime.

Completely coincidentally, two days later, the Senate, as Jen mentioned, passed tough sanctions on Iran. Among other steps, as the AP notes, the Senate bill “would prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.” As I say, it’s certainly just a coincidence that, two days before the vote, Siemens intimated it was heading for the Iranian exit, anyhow.

But it does make you think. Engagement has been a complete failure, as even Richard Haass now admits. It hasn’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program, reduced the brutality of the regime, or done anything to diminish Europe’s vast trade ties with Iran, which have shrunk in 2009 mostly because of the recession. And yet, as soon as the U.S. Senate looks like it might pass a bill – which still needs to be reconciled with the House version, and for which the President has shown no enthusiasm at all – a major German firm suddenly, mysteriously develops a case of the shakes about cozying up to Tehran. I wonder what they’d do if we really started trying.

On Tuesday, Siemens, the German conglomerate, announced in its annual shareholders meeting that it has reduced its commercial ties with Iran. The next day, a company spokesman made that statement a bit more explicit: the company, he said, has “decided not to conclude new contracts with commercial partners in Iran.”

That leaves a lot of wiggle room – Siemens is free to conclude new contracts with government entities in Iran, free to carry on with its existing contracts, and free to conclude new ones until its self-imposed deadline of mid-2010 rolls around. And it does nothing to meet criticism from German human-rights advocates that Siemens sells to states like China, knowing that China will then resell to Iran. But it is, at least, a tiny sign that Siemens is feeling the heat. About time too, given Europe’s commercial complicity with the Iranian regime.

Completely coincidentally, two days later, the Senate, as Jen mentioned, passed tough sanctions on Iran. Among other steps, as the AP notes, the Senate bill “would prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.” As I say, it’s certainly just a coincidence that, two days before the vote, Siemens intimated it was heading for the Iranian exit, anyhow.

But it does make you think. Engagement has been a complete failure, as even Richard Haass now admits. It hasn’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program, reduced the brutality of the regime, or done anything to diminish Europe’s vast trade ties with Iran, which have shrunk in 2009 mostly because of the recession. And yet, as soon as the U.S. Senate looks like it might pass a bill – which still needs to be reconciled with the House version, and for which the President has shown no enthusiasm at all – a major German firm suddenly, mysteriously develops a case of the shakes about cozying up to Tehran. I wonder what they’d do if we really started trying.

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Iran Sanctions Pass the Senate

The president in his SOTU virtually ignored the greatest national security threat of our time: the growing danger that an Islamic revolutionary regime will acquire nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the Senate didn’t wait around for the Obami to act. This report explains:

The US Senate voted Thursday to slap tough new sanctions on Iran, targeting its thirst for gasoline imports in a bid to force Tehran to bow to global pressure to freeze its suspect nuclear program.

“The Iranian regime has engaged in serious human rights abuses against its own citizens, funded terrorist activity throughout the Middle East, and pursued illicit nuclear activities posing a serious threat to the security of the United States and our allies,” said Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

“With passage of this bill, we make it clear that there will be appropriate consequences if these actions continue,” said Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a key sponsor of the legislation.

The bill will need to be reconciled with the House version. The Senate’s bill contains robust measures, the sort candidate Obama seemed to favor on the campaign trail:

It also requires that the president report to congress when non-US companies become eligible for sanctions, under a 1996 law that punishes investments of more than 20 million dollars in Iran’s energy sector.

Iran gets most of its gasoline imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.

The measure also expands the 1996 law to cover oil and gas pipelines and tankers, and requires the administration to freeze the assets of any Iranians, including members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, found to be active in weapons proliferation or terrorism.

It would also enable US investors, including states’ pension funds, to divest from energy firms that do business with Iran.

It would prohibit the US government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.

It seems that the Senate is growing impatient with China and Russia, which show no sign of joining in multilateral measures, and also with the Obami, who have made an art of foot-dragging. As Sen. Mitch McConnell pointed out, “The Iranian regime has shown no interest in limiting its nuclear ambitions. And an entire year was lost as Iran moved closer and closer to its goal.”

Let’s see what Obama does when the bill lands on his desk. He has been unable to hold the Congress at bay, no doubt to the disappointment of the pin-prick sanctions set at Foggy Bottom, which searches for those measures that pack the least punch. Obama may be yanked against his will from his engagement cocoon. But make no mistake: there is no consensus in the U.S. Congress for perpetuating the Obami’s current do-nothingism. There’s also only so much engagement fabulism that even liberal Democratic lawmakers can take. Good for them. Let’s see if it shakes them awake at the White House.

The president in his SOTU virtually ignored the greatest national security threat of our time: the growing danger that an Islamic revolutionary regime will acquire nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the Senate didn’t wait around for the Obami to act. This report explains:

The US Senate voted Thursday to slap tough new sanctions on Iran, targeting its thirst for gasoline imports in a bid to force Tehran to bow to global pressure to freeze its suspect nuclear program.

“The Iranian regime has engaged in serious human rights abuses against its own citizens, funded terrorist activity throughout the Middle East, and pursued illicit nuclear activities posing a serious threat to the security of the United States and our allies,” said Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

“With passage of this bill, we make it clear that there will be appropriate consequences if these actions continue,” said Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a key sponsor of the legislation.

The bill will need to be reconciled with the House version. The Senate’s bill contains robust measures, the sort candidate Obama seemed to favor on the campaign trail:

It also requires that the president report to congress when non-US companies become eligible for sanctions, under a 1996 law that punishes investments of more than 20 million dollars in Iran’s energy sector.

Iran gets most of its gasoline imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.

The measure also expands the 1996 law to cover oil and gas pipelines and tankers, and requires the administration to freeze the assets of any Iranians, including members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, found to be active in weapons proliferation or terrorism.

It would also enable US investors, including states’ pension funds, to divest from energy firms that do business with Iran.

It would prohibit the US government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.

It seems that the Senate is growing impatient with China and Russia, which show no sign of joining in multilateral measures, and also with the Obami, who have made an art of foot-dragging. As Sen. Mitch McConnell pointed out, “The Iranian regime has shown no interest in limiting its nuclear ambitions. And an entire year was lost as Iran moved closer and closer to its goal.”

Let’s see what Obama does when the bill lands on his desk. He has been unable to hold the Congress at bay, no doubt to the disappointment of the pin-prick sanctions set at Foggy Bottom, which searches for those measures that pack the least punch. Obama may be yanked against his will from his engagement cocoon. But make no mistake: there is no consensus in the U.S. Congress for perpetuating the Obami’s current do-nothingism. There’s also only so much engagement fabulism that even liberal Democratic lawmakers can take. Good for them. Let’s see if it shakes them awake at the White House.

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The Worst Failure Isn’t Health Care

In the flurry over ObamaCare’s collapse, some have lost sight of a more serious and far-reaching failure by Obama. This report from Time‘s Massimo Calabresi observes that in addition to “his party’s loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, the collapse of health care reform and a disorganized war against the banks,” Obama has a really big foreign-policy problem: his Iran policy is an abject failure. Engagement was supposed to wean the mullahs off their nukes, or at least demonstrate to recalcitrant powers like Russia and China that we had exhausted all reasonable options so we could proceed with those crippling sanctions. Calabresi asks: “So, how’s that working? Not very well, by all indications.” Not well at all.

We’ve blown through deadline after deadline. No progress has been made in rounding up support, even as Iran snubbed the West and murdered its own people. The Russians and Chinese still oppose sanctions:

But where Russia had previously taken the lead in blocking sanctions efforts, that role has now fallen to China, which has a rapidly growing stake in Iran’s energy sector. … Without China, which holds a Security Council veto, there is no prospect of meaningful sanctions at the U.N. That in turn means difficulty getting tough sanctions from all the European countries, some of whom can’t act without U.N. approval.

Meanwhile, the Obami are watering down the “crippling” sanctions before we even get to the process of negotiating with “our” side and/or the UN. And then, even if we did get some consensus on mild pinpricks, we’d have to roll them out, implement them, and see if they were “working.” But frankly, we’re not likely to get an agreement on anything worth implementing, even after all that genuflecting to the Chinese. The end result:

Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama’s policy are emerging, even in his own party. “What exactly did your year of engagement get you?” asks a Hill Democrat.

Good question: what did we get? Well the mullahs got time to consolidate their grip on the throats of the Iranian people while gaining some international legitimacy. The Iranian protesters got their funding cut and saw the United States go practically mute when it might have mattered the most. The U.S. seems only to have frittered away its moral standing in the world. What we got was another year in which Iran moved closer to membership in the international nuclear-arms club.

Compared to this, health care has been a triumph. But unlike harebrained domestic schemes, getting nowhere is not good enough when dealing with a revolutionary Islamic state bent on acquiring nuclear arms. Both the United States and Israel will soon be confronted with the choice that Obama’s policy was designed to avoid: engage in military action or live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Who among us seriously thinks Obama won’t be inclined to do the latter?) Obama’s Iran-engagement strategy, among a host of misguided efforts and half-baked ideas, is arguably the most egregious policy failure of his first year. It certainly is the most dangerous.

In the flurry over ObamaCare’s collapse, some have lost sight of a more serious and far-reaching failure by Obama. This report from Time‘s Massimo Calabresi observes that in addition to “his party’s loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, the collapse of health care reform and a disorganized war against the banks,” Obama has a really big foreign-policy problem: his Iran policy is an abject failure. Engagement was supposed to wean the mullahs off their nukes, or at least demonstrate to recalcitrant powers like Russia and China that we had exhausted all reasonable options so we could proceed with those crippling sanctions. Calabresi asks: “So, how’s that working? Not very well, by all indications.” Not well at all.

We’ve blown through deadline after deadline. No progress has been made in rounding up support, even as Iran snubbed the West and murdered its own people. The Russians and Chinese still oppose sanctions:

But where Russia had previously taken the lead in blocking sanctions efforts, that role has now fallen to China, which has a rapidly growing stake in Iran’s energy sector. … Without China, which holds a Security Council veto, there is no prospect of meaningful sanctions at the U.N. That in turn means difficulty getting tough sanctions from all the European countries, some of whom can’t act without U.N. approval.

Meanwhile, the Obami are watering down the “crippling” sanctions before we even get to the process of negotiating with “our” side and/or the UN. And then, even if we did get some consensus on mild pinpricks, we’d have to roll them out, implement them, and see if they were “working.” But frankly, we’re not likely to get an agreement on anything worth implementing, even after all that genuflecting to the Chinese. The end result:

Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama’s policy are emerging, even in his own party. “What exactly did your year of engagement get you?” asks a Hill Democrat.

Good question: what did we get? Well the mullahs got time to consolidate their grip on the throats of the Iranian people while gaining some international legitimacy. The Iranian protesters got their funding cut and saw the United States go practically mute when it might have mattered the most. The U.S. seems only to have frittered away its moral standing in the world. What we got was another year in which Iran moved closer to membership in the international nuclear-arms club.

Compared to this, health care has been a triumph. But unlike harebrained domestic schemes, getting nowhere is not good enough when dealing with a revolutionary Islamic state bent on acquiring nuclear arms. Both the United States and Israel will soon be confronted with the choice that Obama’s policy was designed to avoid: engage in military action or live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Who among us seriously thinks Obama won’t be inclined to do the latter?) Obama’s Iran-engagement strategy, among a host of misguided efforts and half-baked ideas, is arguably the most egregious policy failure of his first year. It certainly is the most dangerous.

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Socialism on the March

“Ideology matters again,” Robert Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post. “Autocracy is making a comeback.” The influential analyst focused on China and Russia this morning, but the big news this week from the world of authoritarianism comes from Latin America.

Yesterday, President Evo Morales of Bolivia nationalized Entel, the country’s largest telecommunications company and, at least until a few hours ago, a part of Telecom Italia. Morales has been attempting to take over Entel for about a year. He has been blocking attempts to have the matter settled by international arbitrators.

The nationalization by decree comes on the same day that Bolivia announced that it was acquiring controlling stakes in four energy companies. One of the acquisitions is through agreement with Spain’s Repsol, and the others were implemented by decree. The decrees affected British, German, Peruvian, and Cayman Islands firms. Bolivia claims that none of the four sales was forced. Two years ago, Morales announced that he wanted to nationalize the energy sector.

Morales was following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday, the overstuffed Venezuelan ordered the expropriation of his country’s largest steelmaker, Siderurgica del Orinoco, from an Argentine-Italian group. This action follows Chavez’s moves to take over businesses in important sectors such as telecommunications, electric power, oil, and cement.

At this moment, the Latin American nationalizations are pinpricks. Yet it’s not too early for the West to begin thinking about how to counter assaults on free-markets—and how to work together to defend the concept of private property in a global economy. As Kagan notes, ideologies hostile to us are on the march.

And what are we doing? The West is not good at defending its private businesses. Many of these authoritarian states sustain themselves through their access to foreign investment and trade with the very nations whose property they take. Yet we are doing virtually nothing in response. Ideologues are declaring economic warfare against us, and the least we can do is return the favor.

“Ideology matters again,” Robert Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post. “Autocracy is making a comeback.” The influential analyst focused on China and Russia this morning, but the big news this week from the world of authoritarianism comes from Latin America.

Yesterday, President Evo Morales of Bolivia nationalized Entel, the country’s largest telecommunications company and, at least until a few hours ago, a part of Telecom Italia. Morales has been attempting to take over Entel for about a year. He has been blocking attempts to have the matter settled by international arbitrators.

The nationalization by decree comes on the same day that Bolivia announced that it was acquiring controlling stakes in four energy companies. One of the acquisitions is through agreement with Spain’s Repsol, and the others were implemented by decree. The decrees affected British, German, Peruvian, and Cayman Islands firms. Bolivia claims that none of the four sales was forced. Two years ago, Morales announced that he wanted to nationalize the energy sector.

Morales was following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday, the overstuffed Venezuelan ordered the expropriation of his country’s largest steelmaker, Siderurgica del Orinoco, from an Argentine-Italian group. This action follows Chavez’s moves to take over businesses in important sectors such as telecommunications, electric power, oil, and cement.

At this moment, the Latin American nationalizations are pinpricks. Yet it’s not too early for the West to begin thinking about how to counter assaults on free-markets—and how to work together to defend the concept of private property in a global economy. As Kagan notes, ideologies hostile to us are on the march.

And what are we doing? The West is not good at defending its private businesses. Many of these authoritarian states sustain themselves through their access to foreign investment and trade with the very nations whose property they take. Yet we are doing virtually nothing in response. Ideologues are declaring economic warfare against us, and the least we can do is return the favor.

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