The Iran Sanctions Bill we wrote about in December has passed the Senate in a unanimous voice vote late January. It must now be reconciled with the House version before it can become law. Because the final bill will inevitably pass, the best outcome at this point is to mitigate the damage by changing the bill in conference committee to give the president greater flexibility in applying the sanctions. Without provisions that would allow President Obama discretion in applying sanctions, Iran looks certain to be facing a fourth round of sanctions that promise to lower the standard of living of its people and provide the regime with a scapegoat for its mismanagement of the country. Worse, this latest round of economic condemnation is just as unlikely to persuade Iran to forgo nuclear weapons as the previous three.
This bill is far too broad and runs too great a risk of hurting the regular Iranians who — still extremely discontented with last year’s stolen election — are pushing for democracy in their country. The Obama administration has made it clear that they prefer sanctions that are targeted at people responsible for Iran’s nuclear program and human rights abuses:
The Obama administration has been tweaking its rhetoric about sanctions, shying away from the broad measures found in the umbrella bill led by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, and a companion bill by Rep. Howard Berman, D-CA. Those bills both include measures that could affect large swaths of the Iranian population by restricting such things as refined petroleum exports to the country.
But with increasing disparity between the Iranian regime and the Iranian population, the administration’s appetite for sanctions that have broad consequences for the Iranian economy seems to be waning. “If we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Honolulu, “But all that is yet to be decided upon.”
As it stands, the bill gives the president little flexibility in interpreting the legislation, which in turn ties his hands in negotiating with Iran. The majority of the bill’s provisions were written before the Iranian election and the turmoil that followed, but Congress has been so anxious to pass legislation condemning the illegitimate regime it has not done its due diligence in reviewing the bill. For example, the National Iranian American Council reports that it has failed to remove even a stipulation which places restrictions on Iranians’ access to the internet – a communications tool that has proven invaluable in organizing protests against Khamenei’s regime.
But while S.2799 includes exceptions allowing outdated tools like phonographs, telegraphs, and cassette tapes to go to Iranians, it fails to update the list to include Internet communication software. This means that, even as Iranians are using cell phone apps to organize protests and broadcast videos in to the outside world, and as the Administration works to rewrite regulations to promote rather than restrict Internet freedom, S. 2799 holds in place harmful policies blocking Iranians’ access to communication tools.
Broad sanctions against Iran have always been a bad idea that had little hope of working. But this latest round is especially atrocious: not only does it fly in the face of the Obama administration’s vision for what the sanctions should look like, it punishes the very people that are working to restore democratic legitimacy to the country.