Leaders of the nation’s top Christian organizations — among them Bill Donohue and Pat Robertson — have launched an appeal to U.S. lawmakers calling for reinforcement existing economic sanctions on Iran and expand U.S. support for Iran’s embattled pro-freedom movement.
Calling themselves “Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-Free Iran,” they are seeking new penalties on U.S. corporations whose foreign subsidiaries break current U.S. sanctions on Iran, a loophole that many companies have been exploiting for lucrative sales and investment deals with the Iran.
In aletter sent to all 100 members of the U.S. Senate on Monday, the Christian leaders also call for new penalties on U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies that violate U.N. sanctions. Until now, U.S. law only punishes foreign subsidiaries if their parent company is in violation.
Among the signatories were Dr. Pat Robertson, chairman of Christian Broadcasting Network; Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Baptist Ethics; Gary Bauer, president, American Values; John C. Hagee, senior pastor, Cornerstone Church of San Antonio and president of Christians United for Israel; Stuart Epperson, chairman Salem Communications; Jordan Sekulow, director of International Operations at American Center for Law and Justice; William Donohue, president, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and the Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman, Traditional Values Coalition.
President Obama’s top adviser on the Iranian nuclear crisis, Gary Samore, told a panel hosted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in December that the administration would welcome congressional action to impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran.
“We need to send a message to Iran that sanctions will only increase as Iran avoids serious negotiations,” Samore said.
New sanctions legislation from Congress “would be an important message to send . . . because I think that’s a way of correcting any misimpression the Iranians might have that just talking for the sake of talking is going to in any way get them out of the sanctions noose that is tightening around their throats,” Samore added.
The Christian leaders are also asking Congress to help the pro-democracy movement in Iran, an area of advocacy that until now has fallen on deaf ears with the Obama administration.
The letter asks senators to transfer funding for pro-democracy reforms from the State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy, a congressionally funded private corporation created during the Reagan administration to support dissidents behind the Iron Curtain and elsewhere.
Plans made public by Bush-era Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to spend $75 million to promote pro-democracy groups inside Iran were subverted by State Department bureaucrats, who spent the money on U.S.-based think tanks and to fund a vast expansion of the Voice of America’s Persian News Network, an effort many in Congress believe has foundered.
The letter also asks the Senate to reform Persian language broadcasting, “ensuring that it informs and supports the pro-freedom movement in Iran,” a measure that has growing Congressional support from Republicans and Democrats alike. The VOA has been under fire
for its practices before.
The letter includes many other provisions:
- Authorize the State Department to deny entry to the United States of foreign national business executives of “companies that are investing in Iran’s petroleum or weapons programs.
- Require the Treasury Department to “designate hundreds of front companies and agents operating on behalf of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps,” and to enact secondary sanctions against companies doing business with them.
- Increase “pressure on entities that pay in advance for oil deliveries or sign long-term contracts to purchase oil and gas from Iran.”
Many of the sanctions the Christian leaders are calling for were introduced last October by Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., as the “Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program Act,” but did not become law.
Sherman believes that sanctions can be effective in forcing the regime to shut down its nuclear weapons program, but only if they are “so significant that it's going to cause the Tehran government to fear that their survival of their regime is at issue.”
Sherman has also argued in public for keeping the military option firmly on the table.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., got Congress to incorporate into the Defense Department authorization act last year a measure that for the first time requires the administration to develop and report to Congress a national military strategic plan to deal with Iran's “defiant pursuit” of nuclear weapons.
“If Iran gains nuclear weapons . . . then the entire world reality changes,” Franks said Monday. “Terrorists across the world will gain nuclear weapons . . . Our only peaceful hope is regime change in Iran.”
Sen. Pete Sessions, R-Ala., joined Franks in criticizing president Obama for not responding more forcefully to the pro-democracy protests that erupted in Iran following the disputed June 2009 election of President Ahmadinejad in Iran. “I think [the President] made a mistake,” he said.
Sessions also said he was disturbed to hear reports that the Voice of America’s Persian News Network was not doing more to promote free expression in Iran: “We can’t accept the threat to world security through terrorism from a regime. And we also feel a moral obligation to encourage all nations of the world to not oppress their people.”
Sessions said he intended to join Sen. John Cornyn, R, Texas, and 20 other Republicans in re-introducing the Iran Democratic Transition Act, a measure that would “support the transition to a freely-elected democratic government” by providing assistance to democratic opposition organizations.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., blocked the bill in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year after it failed to win a single vote from Democrats or from the ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.
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