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March 18, 2011

Iran Sanctions Act

[Page: S1811]  GPO's PDF 

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Mr. BLUNT. Mr. President, I rise to speak on an issue I feel I have spent a lot of time talking about in recent years but without much effect on either of the last two administrations. This is the issue of the Iran Sanctions Act. Congress has worked in a bipartisan way to strengthen and expand the Iran Sanctions Act, but in spite of our repeated efforts, the administration has not been willing to use the tools the Congress has given them.

In my mind--and I am sure in the minds of a great many of my colleagues--nothing would be more destabilizing to the Mideast region and to Middle Eastern regional security or global security than Iran's development of a nuclear weapon. I will not spend a lot of time talking about why that is because I doubt there is any Member of this body who is not aware of how dangerous this situation is or could be, which is why it is even more frustrating that we have not been able to get the administration to push a more robust set of sanctions using the sanctions policy and the sanctions tools we have given them.

During the 15 years between the time the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act was passed, in 1996, and last year, no meaningful application of these sanctions was ever adopted. From 1996 until last year, no meaningful application has ever been adopted.

In 2006, I worked closely with the Bush administration to pass a bill known as the Iran Freedom Support Act, to improve the menu in the choices of sanctions available to that administration and future administrations. Under that bill, Congress codified some of the executive actions President Clinton and President Bush appropriately took and ensured that these tools became more permanent.

Last year, alarmed again at the administration's disinterest in using the sanctions available to it, Congress again acted to tighten our sanctions policy. The Congress sunsetted the State Department's period of investigatory review to ensure that once an investigation is launched, it has to be concluded. It is now up to the Obama administration to pursue a vigorous sanctions policy that sends the message to Iran that: You are isolated in the world and the world will not tolerate this nuclear program.

On March 26, 2009, I sent a letter to Secretary Clinton asking for clarification on why the administration had not fully implemented sanctions against Iran. I had sent a similar letter to Secretary Rice in 2007, suggesting--in fact, stating--that the Bush administration was similarly delinquent in its enforcement efforts. We have given them the tools, but, simply, these administrations, in both cases, have not used those tools.

Fortunately, we now see the first indications that we are beginning to head in the right direction.

Last fall, the State Department announced sanctions against Naftiran, a Swiss subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company. In an appearance before the Senate I was at with Secretary Clinton a few days ago, I was positive about my sense that this was a big step in the right direction but really only one step. Since the Iran Sanctions Act, this is the first time ever the act has been used. I am pleased it has been used, but, remember, it is the first time ever it has been used.

This action--to make it even more important that it is being used and frustrating that it hasn't been used--by the State Department had an immediate effect, as I and many others have been suggesting it would since the passage of these tools to the administration. Within days of the State Department's actions against Naftiran, and according to news reports at the time, European firms such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Statoil, and Italy ENI announced they would pull operations out of Iran's energy sector--exactly the kind of impact the Congress had hoped this would have.

On September 29, 2010, Deputy Secretary Steinberg announced the State Department's initiation of investigations into international firms that had not yet committed to exit Iran's petroleum sector. While the full list of these firms remains classified, publicly available reports suggest that list includes at least a dozen firms, many of which are Chinese, including the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company, Chinese National Petroleum Company, and Unipec. Other firms come from Germany, from Turkey, and from Venezuela. The list also includes the Industrial Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, the Agricultural Bank of China, and the Bank of China, which are reportedly providing financial services to Iranian interests in violation of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act.

Under the law that now governs our sanctions policy, the State Department has 6 months to complete these investigations before announcing whether these entities will face sanctions. These notifications are due by March 29 of this year. I am very hopeful the State Department report sends the right message on March 29. It has been a long time for those of us who have advocated that this kind of action would produce the right kind of results.

U.S. sanctions policy should complement the international sanctions effort underway at the U.N. and other international venues. There is no reason we can't pursue a strategic sanctions policy that ensures companies operating in the United States or affiliated with U.S. entities don't invest in Iran's energy sector. It is time we demonstrated that we are serious about this before it is too late.

We have now taken the first step in the right direction. It has produced exactly the results we had hoped those steps would take. I and others anxiously await the report that will come out between now and March 29 to see what the next steps are, and then we will be looking carefully to see what

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the reaction to those actions is. I hope we continue to show we are serious, that sanctions will only work if the nations involved--and particularly the United States--follow their own policies and use their own tools.

I note the absence of a quorum.

(Senate - March 17, 2011)

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