Senate Finance Committee Approves “Iran Sanctions Act of 2008”

On June 18, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to mark up an original bill, the “Iran Sanctions Act of 2008.”  Despite opposition to provisions in the bill from members of the Committee and the Bush administration, the committee overwhelming approved the bill 19-2.

On June 17, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) urging two provisions in the legislation be dropped — the requirement to list and impose sanctions against U.S. parent companies with independent foreign subsidiaries that do business with Iran; and the provision barring entry into force of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement (123 agreement) between the U.S. and Russia.

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) led an effort to strip out the language blocking the Russia agreement, but it failed 4-15.  The other Senators who voted in favor of the Bingaman effort were John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

The Finance Committee passed an amendment by voice vote introduced by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) to impose a 180-day limit on investigations into whether companies are doing business with Iran.  According to Senator Bunning, the administration’s reluctance to sanction companies has led to interminable investigations with no conclusion.

Lobbyists for European countries were out in full force on Capitol Hill lobbying against the bill.

The Senate Banking and Foreign Relations Committees are also claiming jurisdiction over the bill.  Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) both oppose the provision barring entry into force of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement.  Senate Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said he expects to mark up the bill in his committee next week.

By Senate practices, a bill is referred to multiple committees by Unanimous Consent.  However, the Senate may use provisions of Senate Rule XIV or certain unanimous consent requests to completely or partially bypass potential consideration of a bill or joint resolution by a Senate committee.  There is an effort underway to attach the “Iran Sanctions Act” to the Defense Authorization bill, but this and bypassing the other committees claiming jurisdiction over the bill are not viewed favorably.

Carah Ong is the Iran Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation where her work focuses on Iran, nuclear weapons, missile defense, and the greater Middle East.  This piece first appeared in Iran Nuclear Watch on 18 June 2007.

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