September 16, 2008
McCain and Obama campaigns focus on sanctions as Iran threat looms
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- The mounting anxiety over Iran’s nuclear program is sparking campaign chatter over a possible Israeli strike and prompting a bipartisan effort to revive long-stalled sanctions legislation in the U.S. Congress.|
Time is running out, say advocates of new congressional sanctions against Iran, with some wondering if a nuclear deadline for the Islamic Republic looms as early as next year. But an election or three -- in the United States, Israel and Iran -- seem to stand in the way of coordinated action, and conventional wisdom posits that a U.S. president who is perhaps the lamest duck in decades is hardly in a position to carry through with meaningful action.
Against this backdrop, attention has turned increasingly to the possibility of Israel launching a pre-emptive strike, with reports claiming that U.S. officials have told Jerusalem not to take such action. At the same time, however, both vice-presidential candidates have said in recent weeks that the United States should respect any Israeli decision on the matter and both campaigns were planning this week to discuss their Iran policies with Jewish communal leaders.
In the Congress, escalating concerns about Iran have prompted Democrats and Republicans to set aside sharp election-year differences to coordinate with Israel and the pro-Israel lobby to push through sanctions legislation before year's end, including the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
The measure would mandate the publication every six months of a list of companies invested in Iran's energy and defense sectors in order to facilitate divestment from Iran by state pension funds. It also protects from lawsuits fund managers who divest from Iran.
Obama's bill and the Iran Counterproliferation Act are under consideration for attachment to a defense authorization measure that must be passed this term.
The bills have been held up until now because of resistance from the Bush administration and congressional Republicans for myriad reasons: Some business interests have opposed the counterproliferation bill because it would close loopholes that have allowed American companies to continue working with Iran through foreign-owned subsidiaries.
Additionally, the Bush administration has aggressively opposed limitations on its executive prerogative in foreign policy. Pro-Israel insiders say that some Republicans have opposed the sanctions-enabling legislation because they don’t want to give Obama, the Democrats' presidential nominee, a legislative victory in an election year.
But many of those differences have been set aside in recent weeks, pro-Israel insiders told JTA.
Dan Shapiro, an Obama foreign policy adviser and top Jewish outreach coordinator, confirmed to JTA that Obama's bill, which would offer tort protections to pensions that divest from Iran, is likely to be part of the defense authorization measure that is set to pass.
"It has the support of several dozen senators," Shapiro said.
He would not, however, count out resistance from the White House.
Earlier sanctions have had an impact: Businesses increasingly are reluctant to invest in Iran in part because of sanctions Bush has implemented on Iranian banks through executive order.
The perceived need for some kind of action has been exacerbated by the lame-duck status of Bush, who is exiting office as one of the least popular presidents in modern history, and Wednesday's primaries in Israel. The Israeli vote is likely to be followed by weeks or months of political realignments ahead of new general elections.
In addition, Iran is set to hold presidential elections next June, raising hopes of ousting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery rhetoric has fanned much of the anxiety about a nuclear Iran.
"I think you'll see John McCain, diplomatically, working very aggressively with countries throughout the Middle East who feel, and properly so, a threat from the rise of the Shi'a extremist regime, and try to get a larger condominium to address them," said Richard Williamson, the Bush administration's envoy to Sudan who also is advising the McCain campaign, earlier this month in Minneapolis.