July 25, 2009

New Sanctions a “Sword of Damocles” over Iran

Washington DC – “I view the [Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act] as a sword of Damocles over the Iranians,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman. “This is a clear hint of what will happen if they do not engage seriously and move rapidly to suspend their uranium enrichment program.”

Berman said there is “no doubt” the American people stand with the Iranian people, but he said the U.S. will rally international support for imposing “crippling sanctions” if President Obama’s diplomatic strategy has not shown signs of success by the fall.

While most of the world has been captivated by events unfolding in Iran, Wednesday’s Foreign Affairs Committee hearing concentrated on Iran’s nuclear program and the use of sanctions against Iran. The committee hearing included a panel of six witnesses: Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Suzanne Maloney from the Brookings Institution, Abbas Milani of Stanford University, Karim Sadjadpour from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, and Orde Kittrie from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Kittrie, Rubin, and Clawson indicated their support for imposing new sanctions against companies that export refined petroleum to Iran, while Maloney and Sadjadpour indicated that it is too early to decide on this matter and that Congress should wait until “the dust has settled [in Iran].” Milani said that if diplomacy fails, he would support “crippling” international sanctions, akin to what was imposed on apartheid South Africa. While Milani argued that unilateral sanctions don’t work and would only help the government of Iran, he said that he would support refined petroleum sanctions as a “plan C.”

“I approve [refined petroleum sanctions] in precisely the that manner the Chairman indicates, as plan C. After plan A and B fail, then the plan C is certainly called for, and I believe many Iranian democrats will be calling for it as well,” Milani told the Committee.

Maloney noted that “the opposition in Iran has not expressed their desire for bilateral and unilateral sanctions that would cripple the government.” However, Sadjadpour stated that “many members of the opposition and the population actually are starting to come around. Their views towards sanctions have changed… They’re starting to see value in it.” Abbas Milani seconded this point.

Some of the Representatives expressed their concern that sanctions would not be enough to deter Iran. “I feel it already may be too late,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY). Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) compared Iran to Nazi Germany in advocating for harsh new sanctions. Burton added that if sanctions do not work, “they need to know what’s coming next.” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told the panel he believes “we can do more than just sanctions,” advocating covert support for Iranian opposition forces “so that they will have the material well-being…to take on that government themselves.

Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) emphasized that he will support Israel if it bombs Iran because it “feels like it has to defend itself.” Kittrie argued it would be better for the United States to carry out any military action because “we have the right capacity.” Meanwhile, Rubin who prior to the Iranian presidential elections expressed his hope for an Ahmadinejad victory, stated that “the United States should not sacrifice its allies,” indicating support for military action if US allies in the region feel threatened by Iran.

The majority of the Committee agreed that, unless Iran suspends its nuclear program by the end of September, the Congress will likely move to impose additional broad sanctions against the Iranian economy.

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