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The Cable reports that a bipartisan group of Senators have sent a letter to the Chairmen of the Iran sanctions conference, laying down the gauntlet regarding changes sought by the Obama Administration for the final bill, as well as multilateral efforts being pursued by the Administration.
The letter highlights the infamous Gates memo, in which Defense Secretary Gates stated that Iran could potentially assemble all the parts needed for a nuclear weapon “but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.”  The Senators write that this is a reminder “that there is little time left to wait for tough new multilateral sanctions – from the United Nations or otherwise.”
However, Gates was warning that Iran may pursue the Japan model instead of seeking to become a full blown nuclear power; if anything he was calling for a serious evaluation of U.S. policy options should sanctions fail to dissuade Iran from pursuing this model, not supporting the letter’s argument that we should all panic and abandon other tools so we can rush forward with unilateral sanctions.  If there is an argument for how much time we have available to develop and pursue better options, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright assessed that Iran could not have a nuclear weapon for at least two to five years.
The letter also opposes an upfront exemption sought by the Obama Administration for countries the U.S. is working with to impose new U.N. sanctions.
“By definition,” the letter states, “we believe that any country that is meaningfully ‘cooperating’ in the global effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability will take steps to ensure that companies in its territory are not engaged in the kind of trade with Iran that is sanctioned by the House- and Senate-passed bills.”
This prejudges what “the global effort” entails—the rest of the world has not decided that preventing gasoline from going to Iran has anything to with efforts to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons; in fact, denying gasoline is not even part of the Obama Administration’s efforts—it is only part of Congress’ unilateral effort.  To coerce partners and erode multilateral cooperation suggests that it may be Congress who is not part of the “global effort”.
The letter goes on to argue that an upfront waiver is not needed because “the waiver authority provided in this legislation is more than sufficient for the President to make decisions about the invocation of sanctions based on the national interest of the United States.”
But this takes for granted that the “national interest” wavier that currently exists will remain intact—actually, the House version of the sanctions bill raises the threshold whereby the President may waive sanctions from “important to the national interest” to “vital to national security interest”, meaning the President would have less discretion to waive sanctions.  Given this letter, either the House provision has been scrapped or the letter’s signatories are unaware of it.
The letter does call for human rights provisions in the final bill, but the only suggestions offered are for further sanctions.  While sanctioning human rights abusers and companies that provide censorship tools, as called for in the letter, are a good step—they are both a part of Keith Ellison’s excellent Stand With the Iranian People Act—they are not sufficient.
Conferees should include proactive human rights proposals that have been offered, such as the other element of the Stand with the Iranian People Act that would ease unnecessary restrictions that prevent NGOs from working in Iran for humanitarian and human rights purposes.

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