Conferees from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate met to shape a final Iran sanctions bill.
Congressional leaders want to accelerate the final passage of unilateral sanctions that would target third-party entities that deal with Iran’s energy sector. The White House prefers to build an international coalition through the U.N. Security Council for less far-reaching sanctions.
“We should be supportive of the multilateral approach,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a conferee and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who until last December had been sympathetic to White House pleas to go slow.
“A multilateral effort is certainly preferable to a strictly unilateral effort,” Berman said. “Yet time is not our friend, and as we wait to secure multilateral support, Iran and its spinning centrifuges do not wait. So although we do not want our bill to undermine the administration’s efforts to achieve a multilateral sanctions regime, we can no longer wait for a Security Council resolution that has been under negotiation for months.”
Meetings are first expected to take place over several weeks that will reconcile bills already passed in both houses. Wednesday’s was the first of those meetings.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations earlier in the day had urged Congress to take immediate action.
“We urge the members of Congress charged with reconciling the two measures to act quickly and to produce the strongest possible legislation,” said the foreign policy umbrella for Jewish groups. “Time is not on our side, and delays allow Iran to move ahead towards a nuclear weapons capability.”
Israel backs the Obama administration’s sanctions strategy but wants to see a timeline.
“We expect the sanctions to be effective and to be limited in time so we will be able to judge to whether—what kind of results stem from the sanctions regime,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at a joint meeting with his American counterpart, Robert Gates.
Separately, the U.S. State Department outlined in a letter to a group of Congress members how it implements existing sanctions.
The letter, in response to a query that had been initiated by Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said that U.S. diplomats “consult” witrh suspected violators overseas and that eventually, some businesses quietly end the contacts with Iran.
The businesses prefer not to make public their decision because of European laws that ban compliance with U.S. sanctions, the letter said.
“For this reason, and others,” it said, “companies are often intentionally vague about their motivations.”