September 28, 2008

Last-Minute Iran Sanctions Pass House

Washington DC – In a last-minute legislative maneuver, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced H.R. 7112, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2008 on Thursday and ushered its passage through the House late Friday evening.

The bill was modeled off of a previously-introduced piece of legislation put forward in the Senate by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).  That legislation, S. 3445, failed to pass in the Senate this week as part of a package of amendments to the Defense Authorization Act, though could be brought up again for consideration in the Senate some time next week. 

The sanctions package passed (H.R. 7112) by the House would expand the scope of current sanctions to include financial institutions, insurers, export credit agencies and others.  Additionally, it codifies existing US export bans on goods destined for Iran, though it does provide exceptions for food, medicine, humanitarian assistance, and civilian aircraft parts.  It also seeks to punish American parent companies with foreign subsidiaries that maintain business dealings with Iran and encourages divestment from them.

Under the new bill, Congress would strengthen export controls on states designated trans-shipment points for illicit trade to Iran–for example Dubai.   The text does, however, provide the President with the authority to waive all applicable sanctions if he determines that it would be in the national interest of the United States.

The House passed the new sanctions merely hours before the scheduled adjournment time on Saturday, after which Congress will not be in session until the new Congress is installed next January.  It is unclear at this point whether the Senate will consider the Iran sanctions before it adjourns, possibly next week. 

Following the Senate’s passage of its version of the Defense Authorization Act last week–one of the few pieces appropriations legislation to pass either house of Congress this year–members of the informal House and Senate conference committee put the finishing touches on a compromise version of the bill Tuesday evening.  The final language, which was approved by the House Wednesday and the Senate Thursday, did not include any new provisions for unilateral sanctions against Iran. 

For two weeks, the Senate wrestled with the question of whether to include a package of proposed amendments, including the Iran sanctions, but was ultimately unable to approve any of them due to objections over earmarks spending.  Congress is set to adjourn some time this weekend, and it appears increasingly unlikely that a lame duck session will be necessary.

Lawmakers have pressed hard to finish all mandatory business this week in order to avoid the need for a lame duck session in either November or December.  On Wednesday, the House approved a stopgap spending measure known as a “continuing resolution” that will fund the federal government through March of next year without requiring the usual appropriations process be completed.  The CR, as it is known, was passed along with the Defense, Homeland Security, and Military Construction-VA appropriations bills to continue funding the government at last year’s levels through March 6.  If the Senate approves of a similar resolution, there will likely be no need for Congress to return for a lame duck session before next January. 

The prospects for another round of UN Security Council sanctions also appear grim, as Russia withdrew from a meeting scheduled for Thursday to discuss the Iranian nuclear program.  Russia is still reeling from the West’s response to its recent invasion of Georgia, for which it was strongly criticized as belligerent and overly-aggressive by much of the international community. 

Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, holds a veto power over all proposed resolutions, and is unwilling to cooperate with the West on further Iran sanctions.  As a substitute, the UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution reaffirming the previous three resolutions and called on Iran “to fully comply, without delay, with its obligations” under international nuclear regulations.




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