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October 29, 2009

Senate Cmte. Passes Sanctions, Despite State Dept. Opposition

Washington, DC – The Senate Banking Committee passed a broad set of Iran sanctions today, despite one Senator saying that the act was opposed by U.S. Department of State. The unanimous vote, 23-0 in favor, papered over differences that emerged in the hearing.  Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) raised repeated objections to the bill.  “This is a tacit vote of no confidence [against the Obama administration],” Corker said.  During an exchange with a colleague after the vote, Corker revealed the “State Department actually did not want to see this happen.”
Democratic supporters of the bill strongly disagreed with the notion that they were undermining President Obama.  Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) contended that the legislation “is about strengthening the administration’s hand at the end of the day, not weakening it.”  Senator Dodd agreed with Menendez, though he confessed, “I’ve never met yet an administration of any stripe or color that welcomed Congressional intervention of any kind.”
This bill follows the House Foreign Affairs Committee sanctions bill passed yesterday. Like the House bill, this one expands unilateral, extraterritorial sanctions and targets companies exporting refined petroleum to Iran or helping to develop Iran’s oil refining industry.  Other provisions would make American companies liable if their foreign subsidiaries do business in Iran, and would codify the embargo on goods shipped to and from Iran, including pistachios, Persian carpets, and caviar.
The bill, introduced by the Chair of the committee, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), would make it so the President can no longer lift the embargo on Iran without Congressional approval.

Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) argued the sanctions were long past due. “How many more secret nuclear facilities will it take before we realize that we need to take some sort of retaliatory actions?” asked Bunning.
But Corker argued unilateral sanctions would be counterproductive. “At the end of the day, they have almost no effect, no effect in reality on refined petroleum.” He said the main effect would be “hurting companies that are actually in our friends’ countries, that are helping us with Iran,” if Russia and China did not cooperate.
An amendment by Corker stating that multilateral sanctions are preferable to unilateral ones was unanimously adopted, but the Senator withdrew an amendment that would have changed the binding provisions into permissive ones, giving authorities but not mandates to the President.
Corker ultimately voted in favor of the bill with the rest of the committee, saying that the sanctions could be helpful and that he looked forward to working with his colleagues to improve the bill as it moves forward.

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