Overwhelming support, but the White House balks
Sen. Mark Kirk, who has been recovering from a stroke, is expected back at the Capitol in January. That's welcome news.
We're also happy to report that Kirk hasn't let his focus slip on one vital national security issue: stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon. For years, Kirk has led the effort in Congress to impose crippling sanctions on Tehran.
Kirk and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., recently filed an amendment to tighten significantly the economic squeeze on Tehran. The sanctions would cover many companies linked to Iran's government, even if they are not involved in nuclear work. Iran's energy, port, shipping and shipbuilding industries would be blacklisted.
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Such an embargo would tell the world: If you want to do business with the U.S., you can't do business with Tehran.
A popular move in Congress? We'd say. The amendment cleared the Senate on a 94-0 vote and is likely to find broad support in the House.
But the Obama administration is balking. "We do not believe additional authority to apply more sanctions on Iran is necessary at this time," the National Security Council legislative affairs office said in a recent email to Senate Democrats. "We are concerned that this amendment is duplicative and threatens to confuse and undermine some of the (existing) provisions."
The White House apparently believes sanctions included in the amendment could undermine its overtures to Iran for direct talks on its nuclear program. Never mind that Iran has stalled negotiations for the better part of a decade.
Last week, Iran's foreign minister hinted that direct talks between the U.S. and Iran were possible, but that the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would make that decision. In other words: We'll get back to you. Don't wait by the hotline.
President Barack Obama, like his predecessors, bristles when Congress tries to tell him how to conduct foreign policy. But 94-0 is a loud, bipartisan message to increase the chokehold on Iran's economy. The president should welcome this.
Obama often has touted his administration's record of suffocating sanctions against Iran. It is his primary tool to thwart that nation's nuclear ambitions, and gradually, the world has enlisted in that effort. Sanctions are slowly crippling Iran's economy. Inflation is spiking. Iran's currency has lost much of its value. Oil shipments are down by more than half this year, Reuters reports. But current sanctions haven't persuaded Iran's leaders to abandon their nuclear program. Tehran is on track to be capable of producing enough nuclear fuel for a bomb by mid-2013.
Time is running out for economic suffocation to work. Israel — having just withstood an assault from Gaza that utilized Iranian-made rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv — grows more nervous about the threat of a nuclear Iran. More economic pain may or may not break Iran's resolve to build its nuclear capability, but it's the last hope to avoid a military confrontation. The Senate has the right idea.