Obama trying to weaken sanctions against Iran?

Barack Obama talks tougher these days about Iran, but actions speak louder than words.  That’s why the White House request to provide waivers in a sanctions bill making its way through Congress has eyebrows raised on Capitol Hill.  Eli Lake reports at the Washington Times that the exemptions would allow Chinese and Russian companies doing business with Iran off the hook:

The Obama administration is pressing Congress to provide an exemption from Iran sanctions to companies based in “cooperating countries,” a move that likely would exempt Chinese and Russian concerns from penalties meant to discourage investment in Iran.

The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act is in a House-Senate conference committee and is expected to reach President Obama’s desk by Memorial Day.

“It’s incredible the administration is asking for exemptions, under the table and winking and nodding, before the legislation is signed into law,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and a conference committee member, said in an interview. A White House official confirmed Wednesday that the administration was pushing the conference committee to adopt the exemption of “cooperating countries” in the legislation. …

The “cooperating countries” language that the White House is pressing would allow the executive branch to designate countries as cooperating with the overall strategy to pressure Iran economically.

According to three congressional staffers familiar with the White House proposal, once a country is on that list, the administration wouldn’t even have to identify companies from that country as selling gasoline or aiding Iran’s refinement industry.

Even if, as current law allows, the administration can waive the penalties on named companies for various reasons, the “cooperating countries” language would deprive the sanctions of their “name-and-shame” power, the staffers said.

The timing is interesting, to say the least. Jane’s Defense Weekly just reported that China broke ground on a manufacturing facility in Iran that will build anti-ship missiles. With American naval assets in the Persian Gulf, this would usually be a development that would concern American presidents. After all, whose ships would be the natural targets of the Nasr-1 missiles, if not the US? Why would we want to reward that with exemptions and waivers from sanctions?

Obama needs to get China and Russia on board for any new sanctions regime to be effective. However, that only works if China and Russia actually obey the sanctions and stop doing business with Iran. This request makes the Obama effort look very much like a shell game, a way for the White House to claim victory on getting new sanctions while effectively giving China and Russia a pass from compliance.

Has the White House forgotten that the entire point of the exercise is to force Iran to stop building nuclear weapons? Or has the Obama administration decided to just concern themselves with political game-playing, fiddling furiously while Tehran glows?

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