The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Dec. 15 to penalize companies that provide refined petroleum to
The Senate is considering similar measures in more expansive sanctions legislation approved by the Senate Banking Committee in October. House and Senate committee leaders indicated in April that they would delay moving the legislation forward to allow the Obama administration to pursue diplomatic engagement with
The House adopted the measure by a vote of 412-12, with four voting “present.”
The legislation, called the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, amends the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which imposes trade and financial penalties on foreign firms that invest $20 million in
The legislation is intended to take advantage of
To date, no firms have been sanctioned under the Iran Sanctions Act although several firms have met the $20 million investment criterion, according to an October report by the Congressional Research Service. Due to concerns that such penalties on foreign firms may hinder international cooperation to address Iranian proliferation, previous presidents have often not made the official determination that a firm is violating the law, skirting the need to issue a waiver or impose sanctions.
The House bill seeks to limit this practice by requiring that the president investigate suspicions of violation and imposing a time frame for making a determination. The bill also makes the conditions under which the president can issue a waiver more stringent by requiring that the waiver be used only when it is “vital” to
Concerns Over Senate Bill
Although the sanctions bills have received strong bipartisan support, administration officials have expressed some concern about the potential timing of the passage of the Senate bill as well as some of its provisions. In a Dec. 11 letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), first published on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that he is concerned that the current version of the Senate bill “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for” efforts to “impose significant international pressure on Iran.”
Steinberg said the administration’s substantive concerns related to “the lack of flexibility, inefficient monetary thresholds and penalty levels, and blacklisting that could cause unintended foreign policy consequences.”
He requested that the Senate wait until 2010 so that
Congressional sources said in December that although the Senate legislation was approved by the banking committee, Kerry’s committee also has jurisdiction over the issue, and Kerry’s approval is important for its potential passage. A Senate source said in December that Senate members sought to seek approval for the bill before the holiday recess under a unanimous consent rule. That rule would allow the bill to be put to a vote in its present form so long as no senator objected. The attempt to acquire unanimous consent was not successful.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones Dec. 15 as saying that Kerry’s office is “working with the administration to reach a solution that achieves the minimum all parties” are seeking.
The administration does not appear to have weighed in on the House bill. Berman told reporters Dec. 15 that the administration neither told him to “go ahead” or “not to go ahead.” He said he is willing to work with the administration to address some of its concerns in a conference committee reconciling the House and Senate bills, including the possibility of exempting the firms of certain countries from sanctions if those countries already impose strong sanctions against
Over the past several months, administration officials have frequently stressed their preference for pursuing multilateral measures rather than expanding
Berman appeared to agree during a July hearing, when he said the legislation should be “plan C,” following administration efforts to pursue diplomatic engagement and stronger UN sanctions.
Diplomatic and congressional sources said in December that some of the multilateral sanctions the administration is considering are similar to those contained in the legislation, including restrictions on providing refined petroleum to
In December, the European Union signaled its intent to strengthen its own sanctions on
Banks Paying Fines for
As the consideration of sanctions on foreign entities doing business with
The Department of the Treasury announced on Dec. 16 a $536 million settlement by Credit Suisse, the largest sanctions settlement in the history of the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, told reporters the same day that Credit Suisse had concealed the involvement of foreign entities sanctioned by the
“Banks that do business with
The Treasury Department also announced a $217 million settlement by Lloyds TSB Bank. According to a Dec. 22 press release, beginning in the mid-1990s, “Lloyds developed a policy of intentionally manipulating and deleting information about U.S. sanctioned parties in wire transfer instructions,” in league with Iranian banks.