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Weak on Iran

12:52 PM, Dec 9, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The Senate passed the Kirk-Menendez amendment last week—which would sanction the Central Bank of Iran and other financial institutions—by a startling 100-0 vote. The Obama administration opposed the legislation and is currently working to weaken the sanctions as the bill as now in conference. Josh Rogin reports:

The current sanctions language at the center of the closed door debate is the amendment by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), which passed the Senate by a rare 100-0 vote over the very public objections of top Obama administration officials. The amendment would direct the Obama administration to take punitive measures against foreign banks that do business with the CBI, but gives the administration more leeway to implement the sanctions than Kirk's original language.

The administration urged Kirk and Menendez to come up with a compromise amendment but then came out against that very compromise last week, angering and alienating Menendez, who needs to be tough on the issue ahead of his re-election bid next year. The Cable has obtained the administration's private communications to the conferees spelling out the changes they want to the Kirk-Menendez amendment; they can be found here and here.

Basically, the administration wants to delay the implementation of sanctions not related to oil purchases from 60 to 180 days, and wants to water down the severity of sanctions measures if and when they are put into effect.

Unfortunately, sanctions are not the only place where the administration has shown itself to be on the weak side of the Iran issue. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been going around suggesting that, when dealing with Iran, all options are not on the table. In today’s Washington Post, the problems with this approach are explained:

What doesn’t make sense is a public spelling out of reasons against military action — like that delivered by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last Friday before a U.S.-Israeli conference in Washington. Mr. Panetta said that a strike would “at best” slow down Iran’s program for “maybe one, possibly two years”; that “some of those targets are very difficult to get at”; that a now-isolated regime would be able to “reestablish itself” in the region; that the United States would be the target of Iranian retaliation; and that the global economy would be damaged.

Some of Mr. Panetta’s assumptions are debatable: For example, would Arab states — many of which have been quietly hoping for a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran — really rally behind a regime they regard as a deadly enemy? And if bombing destroyed thousands of Iranian centrifuges, which are manufactured from materials Tehran cannot easily acquire, would it really be so simple to rebuild?

But even if every point were true, there is no reason for the defense secretary to spell out such views in public. No doubt President Obama and the Israeli defense ministry are well aware of the Pentagon’s views, but alarmed Iranian leaders could well conclude that they have no reason for concern after all.

Whole editorial here.

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