It’s that time of year again–when Republicans and Democrats in Congress takes a break from wringing each other’s necks to pass a piece of legislation to “tighten the noose” around Iran just in time for campaign season.
For those just checking in, here’s an example of what our current sanctions are already doing on the ground in Iran (via Tehran Bureau):
The board of directors of the Iranian Hemophilia Society has informed the World Federation of Hemophilia that the lives of tens of thousands of children are being endangered by the lack of proper drugs, a consequence of international economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian Hemophilia Society notes that U.S., EU, and UN sanctions technically do not ban medical goods. In fact, there is a so-called “humanitarian exemption” in U.S. sanctions that is supposed to exempt humanitarian goods like medicine, medical goods, and food.
And yet medicine is not getting in to Iran as “sanctions imposed on the Central Bank of Iran and the country’s other financial institutions have severely disrupted the purchase and transfer of medical goods.”
It turns out that imposing the broadest, most indiscriminate, crippling-est, noose tightening sanctions ever (did I miss anything in there?) means that a few piecemeal exemptions for food or medicine, or even Internet communication tools, don’t really stand up.
Between our government’s efforts to convince international banks not to facilitate any transactions to Iran (even legal ones like family remittances and licensed medical sales) to public efforts designed to punish and stigmatize companies that legally sell food and medicine to Iran (see this New York Times exposé about how evil multinationals are sending America’s chewing gum to the Iranians), there are few channels to send much of anything into Iran. And some in Congress want to make it even worse.
Whether they are convinced that an Iranian population with fresh breath just won’t feel all that compelled to demand democracy, or that allowing a sick kid to get medicine runs too big a risk the kid’ll grow up to become an Iranian nuclear scientist–Congressional Iran hawks are looking to pass new laws further closing off humanitarian exemptions.
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL)–AIPAC’s favorite champion of Iranian human rights–along with Representatives Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-FL) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) is pushing for a provision to be included in new sanctions that would make the few currently permitted humanitarian transactions with Iranian financial institutions not just risky and stigmatized, but illegal.
Last week, NIAC signed onto a letter to the Senate with FCNL and other groups that are concerned about the humanitarian impact of such measures strongly opposing the Kirk provision.
It remains to be seen if the measure will be included in the final sanctions bill, but we should know by week’s end. The House and Senate are currently negotiating the final text–they have each passed their own versions–and now Members on both sides are scrambling to cram in as many goodies as possible so they can run home and tout their accomplishments at campaign fundraisers once the President signs it. But Congress goes home at the end of this week and, if nothing is passed in time, they won’t get to revisit the issue until they come back to Washington in October.
So while we won’t know what is in the final bill until a deal emerges, what we do know is that there is little appetite for Congress to try to mitigate the emerging humanitarian suffering sanctions are producing in Iran. Instead, if anything, Congress wants to make it worse.
This is what Foundation for Defense of Democracies calls “economic warfare” and all of Iran is the warzone.