WASHINGTON – The Senate on Friday set the stage for additional sanctions intended to discourage Iran from pursuing a nuclear-weapon capacity, but it is unclear whether the measures will be approved by the Obama administration.
The upper chamber voted 94-0 in favor of the new sanctions in an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill. At press time, the Senate was continuing to debate other amendments to the defense bill, which authorizes funding for various military programs.
The amendment, introduced by Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), designates Iran’s energy, port, shipping and shipbuilding sectors as “entities of proliferation concern,” according to Menendez’s office.
“Under the sanctions – with the exception of permissible petroleum transactions from countries that have significantly reduced their purchases of oil from Iran – these sectors will be off limits," a summary of the legislation says. “The U.S. will sanction any transactions with these sectors and will block the property of any third party that engages in transactions with these sectors.”
The legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk (R-Il.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), also imposes sanctions on various commodities relevant to Iran’s nuclear and ship-building sectors, including graphite, aluminum, steel, metallurgical coal and software for integrating industrial process. The measure "would block and prohibit all transactions in property in the United States by any person that is part of Iran’s energy, port, shipping, ship-building sectors, or that knowingly provides support to those sectors or to any person on the specially designated nationals list (other than nondesignated banks)." It also “prevents Iran from circumventing sanctions on its Central Bank by receiving payment in precious metals.”
The amendment includes exceptions for the provision and sale to Iran of food, agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices to “address concerns about access to humanitarian goods.”
This would be the latest in a series of U.S. financial penalties aimed at persuading Tehran to curb its contested atomic activities, particularly uranium enrichment that could offer an avenue for production of nuclear-weapon material. Those sanctions are complemented by four U.N. Security Council resolutions and various measures by other governments, including a European Union embargo on Iranian oil.
Menendez said on the Senate floor that existing sanctions are working toward crippling the Iranian economy but that “Iran hasn’t quit trying” to enrich uranium and engage in other activities that could benefit a nuclear weapons program. He said the United States “must make clear to Iran that waiting it out is not an option and that it will only get worse.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also spoke in favor of the amendment. He said, though, that the Obama administration had raised concerns about certain aspects of the measure and had indicated that it did not include sufficient flexibility to provide waivers. He said lawmakers would try to address these concerns when they meet with House leaders in conference committee in order to resolve other differences with the lower chamber’s version of the defense bill.
Levin did not detail the nature of the administration’s concerns on the Senate floor, and a White House spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
The White House has already threatened to veto the Senate defense bill on other grounds, including that it requires construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to begin in 2013. The Obama administration plans to delay the project by five years and shift funds “to support higher priority nuclear weapons goals,” according to a statement it issued Thursday.
In an apparent criticism of controversial measures included in the House version of the defense bill, the Senate on Thursday approved by unanimous consent an amendment expressing “the sense of Congress that external and independent oversight of the National Nuclear Security Administration by the Department of Energy is critical to the mission of protecting the United States nuclear security enterprise.” The amendment was offered by Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).
Language in the lower chamber’s defense bill, championed by House Armed Services Committee Republicans, would curtail DOE oversight of NNSA operations as a stated means of combating delays to various nuclear weapons initiatives. Republicans are not in agreement on the issue, however. House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders are looking to eliminate the language in conference negotiations with the Senate, citing this year’s high profile break-in at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee as an example of why DOE oversight is needed.