Obama Again Takes a Pass on Trying to Weaken Iran
True to form, President Obama has not even led from behind when it comes to Iran. Two years ago, he and his minions in Congress tried to slow the passage of laws that would impose tough sanctions on Iran to dissuade the regime from developing nuclear weapons. A weakened version eventually passed but was so weakly enforced by Obama's administration that a bipartisan group of senators sent him a letter calling on the administration to actually enforce the laws of the land. I previously wrote about these efforts to oppose stiff measures against Iran in "Iran Policy: The Problem is Obama."
Then two senators, Republican Mark Kirk (Illinois) and Democrat Robert Menendez (New Jersey) took the lead last year in the Kirk-Menendez amendment to a military funding bill to impose very tough new sanctions on Iran by focusing on the key financial sector of their economy. The goal was to cut off funding for their nuclear program.
Among the provisions were options to sanction Iran's Central Bank (that would be a potentially crippling blow) and an option to impose penalties on foreign firms doing business with Iran's Central Bank. The two senators were stabbed in the back (for lack of a better term) by administration officials who had promised to work with them but in actually worked to undermine the sanctions legislation. Senator Robert Menendez felt so betrayed by their opposition to the amendment that he denounced their actions from the floor of the Senate. A public rebuke of his own party's president -- now that is a rare occurrence. Menendez noted that even the Europeans -- no friends of Israel -- were taking far more stringent actions to prevent an Iranian bomb than had President Obama.
But I digress.
Back to the Kirk-Menendez legislation. There was a deadline regarding one of the provisions. The Obama administration had until today to decide whether to impose sanctions on firms cooperating with Iran's Central Bank. They ignored the deadline (an apt term, given the potential consequences of his and his officials' dereliction of their duties). Senator Kirk was concerned that the Obama administration would try to interpret his and Menendez's amendment in a way to vitiate its impact. Senator Kirk's concerns were well-founded.
From today's Washington Post:
The Obama administration sidestepped a congressional deadline Wednesday and an opportunity to unilaterally ratchet up economic pressure on Iran by punishing foreign firms that do business there.
The legislation said that 60 days after its enactment, the president must penalize any privately owned foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct or facilitate any significant non-petroleum financial transaction with the Central Bank of Iran. Oil sanctions would be added later under the same legislation.
The United States would have had ample examples of foreign firms that have continued to do lucrative business with the powerful Iranian central bank since December...
The administration says it has more time to impose those penalties. A Treasury Department official said the U.S. was interpreting the law to mean that transactions with the Central Bank occurring after Wednesday's deadline would put financial institutions at risk of penalties.
So despite having many targets that Obama could have imposed sanctions on, he chose to give them all a pass. The odd interpretation they apply to existing laws -- laws where the intent was very clear -- is yet another sign that Barack Obama's promise of doing all he can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb was, as he might say, "just words" -- campaign fodder he spewed out in 2008 as he rode a wave of broken promises to the White House.
The "all options are on the table" statement is absurd, given the history of the last three years -- that table must be the size of a molecule.
How terrified can the Iranians be of a military attack from America when Obama refuses to even enforce existing laws and looks for loopholes to escape its obligations?