In an interview with Newsmax on Thursday on Capitol Hill, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, laid the blame for the Iran sanctions delay squarely on the Obama White House.
Congress today voted to set up a conference committee to craft strongly bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation that the Obama administration has succeeded in stalling for nearly 12 months.
“We keep running out the clock, and we let Iran run out the clock. And as we run out the clock, centrifuges are spinning in Iran, and they are ever closer to nuclear capability in Iran,” the Florida representative said.
She added that the Obama administration is bent on negotiations: “They want to see if we can get China on board, if we can get Russia on board, if we can negotiate with the Iranians. They don’t get the picture. This is a real problem, not just for Israel. It’s a national security problem for the United States as well.”
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., first introduced legislation to impose sanctions on companies supplying refined petroleum products on Iran in April 2009. But at the request of the White House, Berman postponed a vote on his own measure for nearly six months. His bill finally passed the House last October in a 412-6 vote.
In the Senate, the delay tactics were controlled by Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., who stalled a similar measure until the end of January this year, when it passed the full Senate by unanimous consent.
Iran imports roughly 40 percent of its gasoline and other refined petroleum goods. Many Iran experts believe that a cutoff would bring unbearable pressure on the regime and force it to negotiate on its nuclear program.
And yet, despite the overwhelming support for ratcheting up the pressure on Iran, the Obama White House continues to stall.
“The White House wants to continue to use this carrot approach instead of using the stick approach, where this would give us great leverage,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
“To have sanctions would give us the ability to cut off the economic lifeline to the thugs in Iran who are making life impossible for all the states around, even the ones who pay lip service to Ahmadinejad. Those states do not want Iran to be a nuclear superpower, either,” she added.
In a speech on the House floor, Ros-Lehtinen reminded her fellow lawmakers that Lt. Gen. Burgess, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified last week “that Iran could produce enough weapons-grade fuel for a nuclear weapon within one year.”
But even this urgent warning “may be too optimistic, given the Iranian regime’s long history of deception,” she added. “There is mounting evidence that Iran has been working on a nuclear warhead for many years.”
Similarly, a report released by the Pentagon on Wednesday warned Congress that Iran could have a missile capable of launching a nuclear warhead against the United States within five years.
Ros-Lehtinen told Newsmax that Congress should send a bill to the White House that includes “no carve outs, no presidential waiver,” to make sure that the sanctions it calls for are enforceable.
But just as previous administrations, the Obama White House is insisting that legislators insert language that would allow the president to “waive” application of the sanctions if he determines that doing so will run contrary to the foreign policy or national security interests of the United States.
Newsmax asked Ros-Lehtinen to respond to hints dropped last week by former Israel Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh that Israel would be “compelled” to attack Iran by November, if the Obama administration didn’t impose “crippling” sanctions on Iran.
“I would hope all options are on the table,” she said. “But with this administration, I’m not sure we can give Israel any kind of assurances that all options are on the table. We have got to protect Israel, because Israel protects the United States. We always talk about how we give cover to Israel. But Israel is a strong ally. Because of Israel, we sleep soundly at night.”
One scenario being floated in national security circles in the event of an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran is a shift by Obama to condemn Israel as an aggressor state at the U.N. Security Council.
Newsmax asked Ros-Lehtinen if Congress would step in to counter such an order from the president.
“It's very important for us to give all of the support that Israel needs in terms of financial support, in terms of military support, in terms of the hardware we're talking about,” she said.
“But a lot remains to be seen. We've just heard the speeches where Israel gets blamed for not having a Middle East peace plan. My gosh, why don't the other actors get held accountable for their incitement to violence and their violent acts? We're blaming the wrong folks. Israel wants a partner for peace, and it lacks one at this time.”
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