Not So Fast on Sanctions

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions “partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

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Not So Fast on Sanctions

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