In another attempt to put the brakes on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Rep. Howard Berman announced on Thursday that he would move stalled legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran.
Berman said that he intended to move on long-stalled legislation to impose sanctions on suppliers, shippers, and financiers of refined petroleum products to Iran. Although Iran is the world’s third largest oil producing nation, it lacks refining capacity and imports 42 percent of its gasoline and jet fuel.
The California Democrat said he would start to move his sanctions legislation in early October, barring an unexpected breakthrough in the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate a halt to Iran’s nuclear program.
Speaking to Jewish leaders from around the country who descended on Washington for a “day of advocacy” on Iran, Berman said that he was complying with the deadline set by the White House in hopes of getting a positive response from Iran to U.S. incentives in time for the summit meeting of G-20 leaders on Sept. 24.
For the Iranian regime to prevent tougher U.S. and international sanctions, Berman said that they had to “engage in a meaningful and significant way” to end their nuclear enrichment program by the Sept. 24 deadline.
“We’re not going to be conned by an Iranian rope-a-dope, its stalling efforts. We have no intention of spending months analyzing old proposals, which are offered merely to delay imposition of sanctions. The clock . . . has almost run out.”
Berman introduced the bill — HR 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act — on April 30, and has won bipartisan support for the measure, with more than 270 co-sponsors.
At the request of the Obama White House, congressional Democrats have delayed action until now, prompting heated questions from prominent members of the American Jewish community, among others.
“Substituting talk for action is not acceptable,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told Jewish leaders gathered at the Historic Jewish synagogue in Washington, D.C.
Hoyer insisted that talks with Iran cannot be “a rationale for delaying substantive actions” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. “No option is off the table.”
He told Newsmax that he sensed “a great sense of urgency” on the part of key members of the Obama administration, in particular Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones.
“Ahmadinejad says he wants to negotiate, but he has precluded negotiations about the critical item, so this is not very useful,” he added.
He was referring to recent comments by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the nuclear issue is “already settled” and that Iran has nothing to discuss with the United States or the Western nations on that score.
Iran’s state-run media has revealed that President Obama sent two letters to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini this spring, but that the two governments have had no direct communication since the disputed June 12 presidential elections in Iran.
Iranian sources told Newsmax that a U.S. negotiating team arrived at Tehran airport in the last week of August and was escorted to a secret location for negotiations.
Key members of Congress told Newsmax that the administration has kept them in the dark on its negotiations with Iran.
Rep. Nita Lowey D-N.Y., the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee panel with authority over the State Department, told Newsmax that she had not been briefed by the administration on the negotiations with Iran. “We’ve been briefed by Sen. Mitchell on the Middle East peace process, but nothing on Iran. Nothing.”
Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Newsmax that he had not been briefed by the administration on the ongoing negotiations with Iran nor on their latest information on Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, despite a much-touted public announcement by a representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on Wednesday that Iran now possessed enough nuclear material to make a bomb.
He said he would be happy to co-sponsor Berman’s petroleum sanctions bill as soon as the White House allowed it to move forward. “You would think that the sanctions bill would strengthen their negotiating hand,” he told Newsmax.
Howard Kohr, the executive director of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) warned that there was an “active debate inside the administration about what to do” about Iran.
Beyond the gasoline sanctions still pending before Congress, he urged Jewish leaders to lobby Congress and the administration to sanction the central bank of Iran. “This action can bring the banking system in Iran to a complete standstill,” he said.
Morton Klein, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, told Newsmax he has spoken to Obama’s advisors about the sanctions legislation and why they have insisted that Berman set it aside until now.
“They are totally against this. They don’t want anything to do with increasing sanctions on Iran. It’s frightening,” he said.
Some officials believed it was time to increase the pressure on Iran, but others believed the administration still had plenty of time before Iran achieved nuclear weapons capability.
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