Tuesday, September 25, 2007

H.R. 1400 Passes House

H.R. 1400 was voted on Suspension today and passed 397-16. Four Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against the measure, with 20 Members not voting.

It should be noted that during the debate of the bill, not a single Member of Congress stood up to speak in opposition of the bill. Though the bill expresses that it is the Sense of Congress that "the United States should use diplomatic and economic means to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem," the bill focuses on imposing broader unilateral sanctions without calling for the implementation of a more comprehensive diplomatic strategy for resolving all outstanding issues with Iran. In other words, the bill focuses on employing bigger "sticks" in dealing with Iran rather than embracing a comprehensive approach.

In the past, many Members of Congress have criticized the Bush administration for not pursuing diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, but pressing forward with efforts to increase unilateral sanctions could directly undermine existing efforts. Many critics of the bill have said that unilateral sanctions are not the answer to the stand-off with Iran, arguing that unilateral sanctions will continue to push Iran into a corner where it will be less likely to negotiate and more likely to act out against the US. And following from this point, if unilateral sanctions undermine diplomatic efforts, it could significantly increase the risk of conflict.

The bill could also alienate the precise allies we need, including European Union countries and Russia, who have more sway with Iran, by applying unilateral sanctions, especially those with extraterritorial reach. A new report written by Harry Clark and Lisa Wang of Dewey Ballantine and commissioned by USA*Engage and the National Foreign Trade Council underscores the ineffectiveness of unilateral sanctions with extraterritorial reach. At the release of the report in August, NFTC President Bill Reinsch said, “The reality is that sanctions are only effective if they’re widely applied. Unilateral sanctions by far represent the most ineffective means to impact a foreign government or persons whose policies and behavior we disagree with or want to change. The same is true for unilateral sanctions that extend beyond our borders and attempt to affect the behavior of entities, companies or persons overseas. These measures put companies in the impossible position of violating someone’s law no matter what they do.”

S. 970 is the Senate version. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) has filed the bill as Amendment No. 2166 to the Defense Authorization bill, but it is unclear whether it will come up for a vote. The bill is unlikely to be voted on as a stand-alone measure in the Senate until either later this year or early next year.

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