GOP doubts effectivness of Iran sanctions

May 31, 2011

Republicans are delaying the confirmation of Treasury flunky David Cohen until the Obama administration proves it’s serious about enforcing sanctions against Iran.

Somehow this article snuck by me.  We’ve been following the David Cohen Treasury nomination pretty closely, and observed that at least one prominent Senate Democrat expressed reservations about Cohen’s confirmation, but did not realize that seven GOP lawmakers also moved to hold up the confirmation until Treasury gives more enforcement oomph to CISADA, which among other things sanctions gasoline sales to Iran.

Certainly, the White House is giving private assurances to Cohen that it’s all just “politics” about Iran that’ll blow over in due course, and that Cohen shouldn’t take it personally.  However, one suspects that if Pres. Obama had selected a tougher operative with stronger credentials on Iran or on sanctions enforcement in general, this hold-up would have never taken place.

From Foreign Policy’s The Cable earlier this month:

Seven Republican senators are demanding that the Obama administration take tougher measures to punish banks still doing business in Iran, and they are threatening to stall the nomination of a top Treasury Department official unless they get their way.

The dispute between the White House and Congress revolves around implementation of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) of 2010, the wide-ranging law signed into law last year. The Treasury Department issued a draft rule last week that lays out how it intends to implement a key provision of the law, which deals with Iran’s banking partners in countries around the world. And that rule raised the ire of seven GOP senators, who expected Treasury to enforce the law much more stringently.

The key provision, section 104(e), directs the administration to punish any international financial institutions still doing business with Iran by cutting them off from the U.S. financial system.

“We were extremely unhappy with the draft rule to implement section 104(e) of CISADA publish by the Treasury Department last week,” wrote Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Roger Wicker (R-MS), David Vitter (R-LA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Mike Johanns (R-NE), in a previously unreported letter sent Tuesday, and obtained by The Cable.

The letter was addressed to David Cohen, the acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department. Cohen took over for Stuart Levey, the previous sanctions chief at Treasury, who moved on to the Council on Foreign Relations last month after more than 4 years on the job.

The senators are threatening to hold up Cohen’s nomination if their demands regarding enforcement of the sanctions provisions aren’t met. Cohen had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday and, afterwards, Kirk sent Treasury a list of follow-up questions he says must be answered before he’ll allow Cohen’s nomination to move forward.

“The acting undersecretary’s response to our letter and questions for the record will weigh heavily in any confirmation decision,” Kirk told The Cable.

Kirk also identified 44 international financial institutions servicing Iranian banks and 18 U.S. institutions that are working with those who do business inside Iran. He got this list from a 2010 report entitled “Iran’s Dirty Banking”, which sourced the information to the Banker’s Almanac…

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