Double edge to US sanctions bid on
Iran By Khody Akhavi
WASHINGTON - As the United States and its
allies in the United Nations plan to push for
stiffer economic sanctions on Iran over its
refusal to halt its nuclear program, an Iran
sanctions bill making its way through Congress
includes several key measures that may threaten US
diplomacy toward Tehran and split key allies on
the issue, including Russia.
Counter Proliferation Act of 2007 (HR 1400),
introduced by Democrat Tom Lantos in March, aims
to increase economic
pressure on Iran by
eliminating President George W Bush's ability to
waive sanctions against foreign companies that
invest in the country's energy industry. The bill
would also restrict US nuclear cooperation with
countries such as Russia that assist Iran's
nuclear and weapons programs.
must be zero foreign investment - let me repeat
this, zero foreign investment - in Iran's energy
sector. That is the only formula that can prevent
Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons," said
Lantos in statement released by the House of
Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs,
which he chairs.
But critics argue that
the bill jeopardizes Russian-US cooperation at a
time when Washington needs Moscow's support to
confront Iran on the international stage.
"Any deterioration of cooperation with
Moscow in this sphere could ultimately diminish
successful US-Russian collaboration in the effort
to secure and dismantle weapons of mass
destruction and their associated infrastructure in
former Soviet Union states," according to a
statement by Israel Policy Forum, a Zionist peace
group based in Washington. "The Russian issue does
not belong in this bill."
maintaining a powerful position - and veto power -
on the UN Security Council, Russia has cultivated
close ties with Tehran, building a nuclear power
plant near Iran's southern port of Bushehr. In
February, Russian officials confirmed that Russia
had delivered more than US$700 million worth of
air-defense systems to help protect Iran's nuclear
sites from attack, according to a report in the
Wall Street Journal.
"We don't think Iran
should feel itself encircled by enemies," Russian
President Vladimir Putin told the Arab satellite
news station Al-Jazeera. "The Iranian people and
the Iranian leadership should feel they have
friends in the world."
Washington and Moscow are already strained over US
plans for a missile-defense system in former
Soviet-bloc countries in eastern Europe.
Washington says the system is meant to protect
Europe from a possible Iranian nuclear missile
strike, but Russia says the US system is aimed at
its nuclear arsenal.
In 2006, Congress
withheld 60% of US foreign aid assistance to
Russia because of its continued assistance to
Iran's nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.
Russian politicians also expressed dismay
over the proposed bill, arguing that "both the
letter and spirit" of it are in conflict with
international law. "It cannot but cause
disappointment and regret, because this bill
requests that Russia stop all assistance to Iran
and that it does not supply Iran with any improved
conventional arms or missiles," Konstantin
Kosachev, head of the State Duma's (parliament's)
Committee for International Affairs, told the
Russian news agency Interfax.
legislation would also reimpose import sanctions
on certain Iranian exports to the United States,
such as foodstuffs and Persian carpets, and call
for the Bush administration to designate the
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a
established by the late ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini as a parallel force to the military
during Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, has been
accused by the US of training Lebanon's Hezbollah,
supplying Shi'ite militias in Iraq and
participating in insurgent attacks on US troops.
The IRGC's leadership is so politically
and financially powerful that any Iranian leader
is likely to demand that the US repeal that
provision as a precondition for negotiations on
the nuclear issue.
The Bush administration
has been rhetorically steadfast in its opposition
to Iran's nuclear aspirations, and has continually
emphasized its desire to see "regime change" in
"The world has spoken and said, 'You
know, no nuclear-weapons programs.' And yet [Iran
is] constantly ignoring the demands," Bush said
during a recent news conference. "My view is that
we need to strengthen our sanctions regime."
HR 1400 is just one of several bills in
Congress and state legislatures to respond to a
grassroots campaign calling for divestment in
companies that do business with countries that the
State Department considers state sponsors of
In the past year, state
lawmakers in California, Missouri, Florida and New
Jersey have introduced bills that specifically
seek to ban investment in Iran's oil and
natural-gas infrastructure. The "terror-free"
investment movement - spearheaded by the
neo-conservative think-tank Center for Security
Policy - aims to force mutual funds, pension funds
and endowments to pull their investments from
international companies that do business with
The divestment effort has also
gained attention because of the involvement of
pro-Israel interest groups. The "Divest Iran"
campaign was one of the main messages delivered at
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
convention in Washington in March.
officials within the State Department appear
resistant to any legislation that may undermine
the executive branch's power and direction over US
"If the focus of the
United States' effort is to sanction our allies
and not sanction Iran, that may not be the best
way to maintain this very broad international
coalition that we have built up since March of
2005," Under Secretary Nicholas Burns told members
of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March,
regarding HR 1400.
against Iran were recently slipped into a 2008
defense appropriations bill in the Senate, and
were met with similar resistance.
these proposals are certainly well intended, they
could have significant counterproductive policy
implications," said Deputy Secretary of the
Treasury Robert Kimmitt, during a speech at the
Institute for Near East Policy in May.
While the Bush administration appears
confident it can persuade countries such as Russia
to support stiffer sanctions against Iran, the
critical question will be how much congressional
legislation will complicate the Bush
administration's relationship to key international
players and what that will portend for US
"diplomacy" toward Iran.