December 15, 2009

House Subcommittee Hears Reservations on Sanctions Ahead of Vote

Washington, DC – When asked about an alternative to the latest Iran sanctions bill, Robin Wright of the US Institute of Peace said today “I think the opposition in Iran would be stunned and pleased that Congress would be enlightened enough to” pursue a different path, such as the one offered yesterday by the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act.

Ms. Wright, Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at USIP, joined Amb. James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation, George Lopez, Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in testifying before the House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security ahead of the House’s scheduled vote on the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA).

NIAC President Trita Parsi also was invited to submit written testimony for the hearing, which was entered into the Congressional record. 
Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) held up his electronic voting card, which all members of Congress use to vote on the House floor, and asked the panelists how they would vote on IRPSA if they had one themselves.  All four of the panelists said they would vote “no” on IRPSA.
Dr. Maloney argued that sanctions need to be integrated into our diplomatic efforts with Iran and that sanctions and diplomacy are not mutually exclusive. She said sanctions that targeted Iran’s banking sector have been most effective, and that Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) already has the tools it needs to make sanctions more effective. 
Dr. Lopez, who favored “aggressive diplomacy in which we invite, embarrass, cajole, and incentivize the Iranians to think about the Geneva deal that they have left on the table,” argued that sanctions have only about a 33% success rate and that broad economic sanctions in particular are even less effective. He said that “we cannot punish Iranians into a nuclear deal.”
Similarly, Ambassador Dobbins said that “further sanctions against Iran are not likely to alter Teheran’s nuclear policies,” which is the original intention of IRPSA. He said that “such sanctions will weaken the state economically and even militarily, but perhaps also strengthen the regime’s domestic support and hold on power.” Referring to a ban on petroleum, Dobbins said in his written testimony that “a unilateral American ban with extraterritorial application would seem to offer the worst combination of effects, penalizing the population, strengthening the regime, embroiling the United States in endless disputes with its allies, and thereby disrupting existing international solidarity in opposition to Iran’s nuclear aspirations.” He added that sanctions should be “rapidly reversible.”

Wright testified about the efforts and resilience of the Green Movement in Iran, and the layers of the government opposition from civil disobedience to opposition in the political elite and among clerics. She said the Obama administration should bolster their movement by increasing its focus on human rights violations in Iran, not through sending money directly to the opposition who fear becoming tainted by it in Iran.

Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-TN-2), who said passing IRPSA today would be “unfortunate,” asked what could be done to signal that it is not acting against the Iranian people. Lopez answered that it would be useful to work on increasing the President’s flexibility on sanctions implementation, with Wright suggesting more direct statements from the administration addressing human rights in Iran and support for its people, whose “public sentiment on sanctions is complicated by the nuclear issue.”




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