Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) released a letter, signed by 79 Senators, urging President Obama to crack down on Iran for ignoring international pressure to halt its nuclear development program. The senators pressed the President to use both his existing authority to confront Iran, as well as new powers granted under legislation pending in Congress that would sanction Iran's banking system and impede Iran's ability to import refined petroleum.
"Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons remains a diplomatic imperative. But time is not on the side of those who seek to prevent a nuclear Iran. We cannot allow those who would oppose or delay sanctions to govern either the timing or content of our efforts," the senators wrote.
The Senate passed a new set of sanctions against Iran just this February. The "Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2009" calls for additional funds for the Secretary of State to collect and share information on human rights abuses; prohibits the U.S. government from purchasing goods from companies that are sanctionable under the Iran Sanctions Act; strengthens and codifies into law the Treasury Department's freeze on assets of Iranian officials and associates who support terrorism and proliferation activities; expands sanctions on foreign companies investing over $20 million in Iran's oil and gas sector to certain financial institutions, foreign subsidiaries, insurers, export credit agencies, and others; and requires U.S companies be sanctioned for the activities of their subsidiaries established specifically to circumvent sanctions if they invest over $20 million in Iran's energy sector.
The measure also includes two provisions championed by Schumer and Graham. The first would bar government contracts for any U.S. or foreign firm that export sensitive communications-jamming or monitoring technology to Iran. The second was a resolution declaring the sense of Congress that the U.S. should continue to aggressively target Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah for sanctions and consider new sanctions against Iran's Central Bank.
In addition, the bill:
· Requires the President to sanction companies involved in exporting refined petroleum products to Iran or in developing oil refineries within Iran by restricting their foreign exchange transactions, access to U.S. banks, and acquisition, holding, or transfer of property in the U.S;
· Requires the Administration to report to Congress a list of the companies that are sanctionable under the Iran Sanctions Act and whether or not sanctions will be applied;
· Codifies into law and strengthens the Treasury Department's ban on trade with Iran;
· Allows the President to waive sanctions if he finds it is in the national interest of the United States, but must report to Congress describing the reasons for the waiver;
· Authorizes funds for the Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Office (TFI) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) at the Treasury Department;
· Authorizes states, local governments, and mutual funds to divest from firms investing in Iran's energy sector; and protects private asset managers from lawsuits over fiduciary duties, and finally requires the U.S. assist Iran's trading partners in preventing the re-export of sensitive dual use technology to Iran via third countries and to subject these countries to significant restrictions on exports if they refuse U.S. assistance.
This Senate-passed legislation is currently being merged with a separate measure approved by the House. In their letter, the 79 senators urged the President to quickly implement the new sanctions against Iran once the finalized bill is enacted.
A copy of the senators' letter to Obama is below.
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write you out of our concern that Iran is growing ever closer to achieving nuclear weapons capability, a fact demanding immediate action. We want to assure you of strong bipartisan support for the tough and decisive measures that we hope you will undertake to address this grave problem.
Iran's nuclear weapons program represents a severe threat to American national interests. Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons could lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East and beyond, unsettling the global non-proliferation regime and ending any hopes for a nuclear-weapons free world. Additionally, it would greatly increase the likelihood of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. Iran could increase its attempts at destabilizing its neighbors, encourage terrorism against the United States and Israel, and the risk of both conventional and nuclear war in the Middle East would rise considerably. It would undercut prospects for peace between Israel and its neighbors, with emboldened Iranian surrogates enjoying the strategic backing of an Iranian nuclear umbrella. And it would pose a potential threat to our closest ally, the State of Israel.
Iran is making steady progress in its nuclear program. Iran now has stored enough low enriched uranium to serve as the core for two nuclear weapons. They will soon be able to install more advanced and efficient centrifuges. Iran has recently announced that it will begin to enrich uranium to twenty percent fissile. Its weaponization program now appears to be at an advanced stage. Iran has defied several UN Security Council resolutions directing it to suspend enrichment and has rejected its opportunity to fully explain its nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Credible evidence suggests that if Iran's nuclear program continues to progress at its current rate, the Iranian government could certainly have a nuclear weapons capability well before your current term in office expires.
Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons remains a diplomatic imperative. But time is not on the side of those who seek to prevent a nuclear Iran. We cannot allow those who would oppose or delay sanctions to govern either the timing or content of our efforts. As you said last July, we cannot wait until we "wake up one day and find ourselves in a much worse situation and unable to act."
Accordingly, we urge you today to reaffirm that the U.S. can and will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Now is the time to put into practice your June 2008 pledge that you would do "everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." One way to begin would be to reverse the practice under which the US government has awarded at least $107 billion in federal contracts over the past decade to companies investing in, or doing business in, Iran. We also urge you to join with those allies who are prepared for action to immediately impose crippling sanctions on Iran. Only such action on our part -- combined with the open door you have promised of negotiations with Iran -- offers the prospect of persuading Tehran to turn away from its dangerous course.
Mr. President, we will soon complete our work on Iranian sanctions legislation that has received the backing of overwhelming majorities in both Chambers of Congress. We believe that America, together with allies who share our approach, can force Iran's regime to face the tough choice between international isolation and possible reconciliation. We can do this by imposing punishing measures on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, sanctioning Iran's banking system, and dramatically impacting Iran's ability to import refined petroleum.
We urge you to move quickly to implement your existing authority on Iran and the legislation we send you, and to galvanize the international community to take immediate, substantive steps. Now is the time for action focused on preventing a nuclear Iran. We look forward to working with you on this important task.
Senators Schumer, Graham, Gillibrand, Lieberman, Levin, Feingold, Feinstein, Cardin, Durbin, Hagan, Roberts, Vitter, Coburn, Crapo, Collins, Murkowski, Klobuchar, Landrieu, Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, Boxer, Burris, Akaka, Casey, Sherrod Brown, Evan Bayh, Mark Begich, Mikulski, Kohl, Lautenberg, Johanns, Risch, Brownback, Barrasso, Snowe, Alexander, Wicker, Merkley, Inouye, McCaskill, Cantwell, Wyden, Lincoln, Warner, Dorgan, Carper, Specter, Shaheen, Stabenow, Conrad, Whitehouse, M. Bennet, Mark Udall, Tom Udall, Pryor, Menendez, Murray, Johnson, Tester, Kyl, Bennett, LeMieux, Cornyn, Cochran, Thune, Grassley, Corker, Chambliss, Ensign, Inhofe, McCain, Scott Brown, Bond, Hutchison, Voinovich, Isakson, DeMint, Burr, Franken.