Rebuttal to Joshua Black by Stephen Shalom
(Written after the February 25th Meeting)
In our meeting with Joshua Black, he said that (1) our complaint seemed to be with Congressional legislation, rather than the actions of the Obama administration, (2) the UN sanctions contained in Security Council resolution 1929, which he worked on, did not harm the Iranian people, unlike the broader Congressional legislation, and (3) Obama's commitment to spend funds on nuclear force modernization was a political compromise forced on him by the Republicans in return for their supporting the New Start treaty. However, we find neither of these arguments convincing.
1. CLAIM: Our complaint should be with Congress and not the Obama administration. But:
a. Obama signed the Congressional legislation. Under the U.S. system of government, the administration shares responsibility for laws that are passed, unless the president vetoes the bill and Congress overrides the veto.
b. When Obama signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-195), the "Iran Sanctions Act," he did not express any reservations or criticize legislators for overzealousness. In fact he said,
"I’m pleased to sign into law the toughest sanctions against Iran ever passed by the United States Congress — the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act.
"I want to thank all the members of Congress who worked on behalf of this legislation, including another tireless person, but who never seems to break a sweat — the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. I want to thank Representatives Steny Hoyer and Eric Cantor for doing outstanding work. Although they weren’t able to join us, I want to acknowledge Senators Harry Reid, Jon Kyl and Richard Shelby. And I want to thank those who led the effort to forge a final bill that received overwhelming bipartisan support — Senator Chris Dodd and Representative Howard Berman. Thank you for your good work." 1
c. In the 2008 presidential campaign, during his second debate with John McCain, Obama endorsed imposing sanctions on Iran's importation of gasoline and other refined petroleum products:
"… I have consistently said that, if we can work more effectively with other countries diplomatically to tighten sanctions on Iran, if we can reduce our energy consumption through alternative energy, so that Iran has less money, if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it's an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them." 2
d. The Obama administration is on record endorsing "crippling" sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April 2009, “We actually believe that by following the diplomatic path we are on, we gain credibility and influence with a number of nations who would have to participate in order to make the sanctions regime as tight and as crippling as we would want it to be.” 3
2. CLAIM: The sanctions contained in UN Security Council resolution 1929 do not harm the Iranian people, whatever may be the case with the United States' own "Iran Sanctions Act." But:
a. Sanctions expert Joy Gordon has written:
"The sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council, for which the United States has lobbied aggressively, are not much of an improvement over the U.S. government measures. The appendices attached to Security Council resolutions, which list the names of individual persons and companies, imply that the impact will be narrowly targeted. But, in fact, it is not.
"UN sanctions, for instance, targeted Iran’s Bank Mellat on the grounds that it facilitated financial transactions for military entities. But Bank Mellat is also one of the largest commercial banks in Iran, with over 1,800 branches and almost 25,000 employees. Bank Sepah, the fifth-largest bank in Iran, was also targeted, on the grounds that it “provides support” for Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization. It's as though Chase Manhattan Bank were prohibited from doing business, and had billions of dollars in international assets frozen, on the grounds that one of its clients is Sikorsky Aircraft, which makes military helicopters. This stands in marked contrast to actual targeted sanctions—for example, the boycott of Caterpillar, which makes the bulldozers that are directly used by Israel in the demolition of Palestinian homes.
"The United States was also behind UN sanctions that target the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), on the grounds that it arranges shipments of cargo related to the military. But IRISL is also Iran’s national shipping line. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, IRISL is 'a global operator' that 'provides a variety of maritime transport services' of every sort, 'connect[ing] Iranian exporters and importers with South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.' And one-third of Iran’s GDP consists of exports. To compromise Iran’s major shipping lines would do damage far beyond blocking the transport of military items." 4
b. The New York Times report on the Security Council sanctions resolution stated:
"The United States had sought broader measures against Iran's banks, insurance industry and other trade, but China and Russia were adamant that the sanctions not affect Iran's day-to-day economy. Washington and Beijing were wrangling down to the last day over which banks to include on the list, diplomats said, and in the end only one appeared on the list of 40 new companies to be blacklisted.
"In the end, both Iran's energy sector and its central bank were mentioned with somewhat tortured wording in the opening paragraphs. But administration officials said that buried in the resolution were specific phrases — they called them 'hooks' — that would provide a legal basis for European and other nations to impose tougher, broader sanctions than many Security Council members were willing to adopt." 5
c. The Washington Post reported that,
"The administration did succeed in preserving support from China and Russia, although only after assuring them that the measures would not impair their ability to continue trading with Tehran.
"'These are tough, strong and comprehensive sanctions that will be the most significant of all of the resolutions that imposed sanctions on Iran,' Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview." 6
d. The Guardian story stated that,
"The sanctions fall far short of the "crippling" measures the US was seeking. Russia and China, permanent members of the council with a veto like the US, Britain and France, refused to support sanctions targeting Iran's energy sector or which would harm ordinary people.
"Western countries wanted to see more comprehensive financial measures, a ban on investment in the energy sector and a full arms embargo.
"The new measures refer to Iran's energy sector as a source of financing for the nuclear programme, language that the US and other western countries are expected to use to impose further sanctions nationally or multilaterally through the EU." 7
e. And the Christian Science Monitor reported:
"The resolution is also seen as a green light for the US, the European Union, and other countries to proceed to even harsher and more comprehensive sanctions on their own.
"The Obama administration has been working with Congress, for example, to hold off on some popular bipartisan legislation targeting Iran's energy sector until the US completed its diplomatic press at the UN. And some European officials in Washington have said recently they expect momentum for additional European Union measures to grow with passage of the UN resolution.
"Speaking in London Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the new resolution would provide a 'legal platform' for 'individual nations to then take additional actions that go well beyond the resolution itself.' He added, 'I believe a number of nations are prepared to act pretty promptly.'"8