NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

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Iran is pressing ahead with its efforts to enrich uranium—a key step toward building a nuclear weapon.
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Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said they want to send an Iran sanctions bill to President Obama as soon as possible.

Senate Passes Major Iran Sanctions Bill

Soon after returning from its winter recess, the Senate passed by voice vote a major Iran sanctions bill. In doing so, the Senate joined the House of Representatives, which passed its version of an Iran sanctions bill in December by a vote of 412-12. The entire United States Congress has now sent a strong message to the Iranian regime: Suspend your efforts to enrich uranium or face devastating economic consequences.

The Senate bill, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009 (S.2799), gives President Obama the authority to tell any company that sells, ships or insures refined petroleum to Iran that it cannot do business in the United States.

These sanctions can have a damaging effect on the regime. Iran is one of the largest oil exporters in the world, but lacks sufficient domestic refining capability. Iran needs outside help in order to function—and the Senate bill targets that outside help.

In addition, the Senate bill allows state and local pension funds to divest from Iran without having to worry about being sued for doing so. A number of state pension funds have already divested, and it is now likely that more will be encouraged to follow suit.

And finally, the Senate bill targets the Iranian regime's awful human rights abuses. The legislation bans the U.S. government from doing business with any company that provides the regime with technology that could be used to monitor its citizens. This will make it harder for the mullahs to crack down on those who have been risking their lives to protest the results of the fraudulent presidential election last June. BACK TO TOP

Senate Leaders Praise Bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) spoke on the Senate floor moments before the sanctions bill was approved. "I believe that passing this legislation is critical to send Iran the message that the United States is serious about keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability," Reid said.

"We have all watched the Iranian regime oppress its own people on the streets of Iran," Reid continued. "And we have watched them continue to defy the international community on nuclear issues. That is why it is so important that we move this legislation forward quickly."

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joined his Democratic counterpart in explaining why he favored strong sanctions against the Iranian regime. "Frequently, these kinds of unilateral sanction measures make little or no difference," McConnell said. "This measure, however, is crafted in such a way that it could actually become effective, with America alone not having to depend on the cooperation of the other countries that tend to be less concerned about whether Iran ultimately becomes armed with nuclear weapons."

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), who introduced the bill last spring along with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), spoke about U.S. diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to suspend its nuclear program.

"When he took office, President Obama adopted a two-track policy of engagement backed by the prospect of further sanctions, and I have supported his approach," Dodd said.

"Our legislation strengthens what has come to be known as the 'pressure track.' Today we must send a clear signal to Iran's leaders that if they continue to defy the will of the international community, our nation and other nations are prepared to confront them with tough new sanctions."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also spoke on the Senate floor, emphasizing Iran's abysmal human rights record. "I hope we will be able to impose these and other necessary actions against this tyrannical, oppressive, brutal regime in Iran that I think is coming apart," McCain said. "We want to be on their side, and we want the Iranian people to know we are on their side." BACK TO TOP

Legislation Now Goes to Conference

The House and Senate bills differ slightly. Before Congress can send legislation to President Obama, the two chambers must agree on one bill. Once they agree, both the House and Senate will vote again on a final version. This process of negotiations is called conference.

There is reason to be optimistic about the bill's final passage. While speaking to each other on the Senate floor, Sens. Reid and McConnell said that they want to put a final Iran sanctions bill on the president's desk as quickly as possible. BACK TO TOP