The Obama administration announced additional sanctions and ramped up its rhetoric against Iran last week. But that didn’t stop members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from slamming senior administration officials for what members saw as a tepid response to the alleged Iranian-backed plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador and bomb Saudi and Israeli embassies here.
“Via the failed plot, it became clear for any who still had their doubts that the Iranian regime would use all available options to threaten U.S. security, our interests, and our allies,” Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said on Friday. “They brought the battle to our homeland, but our policy response is to essentially remain the same? Let me be blunt: This planned murder-for-hire must serve as a wake-up call regarding the determination and capability of the Iranian regime.”
Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s recently confirmed undersecretary for political affairs, and David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, both defended the steps taken last week after the announcement that U.S. officials had disrupted a plot they said was orchestrated by members of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Treasury announced sanctions against five individuals, including the commander of the Quds Force, and sanctioned Iran’s second-largest airline, which it claimed was secretly ferrying weapons and operatives.
“We want to create the maximum pressure on Iran,” Sherman said, saying that the administration has imposed the strongest sanctions program against Tehran in three decades and that the sanctions have already “begun to have some bite.” Now, Washington must “mobilize the international community … to increase the severity and impact,” she said.
Cohen emphasized that the Obama administration is actively seeking tougher sanctions to isolate Iran’s central bank. No U.S. institution has dealings with the CBI, but further sanctions could bar any international firm that deals with the bank from doing business with U.S. companies. That could put pressure on Iran’s crude-oil sector, Cohen said.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., asked Cohen for a “wish list” of other sanctions. Cohen said Washington will continue to add entities of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps to its blacklist; for example, Iranian port operating company, Tidewater, was sanctioned in July after the Revolutionary Guard Corps acquired it from a private owner. “As they turn over more and more of their economy to the IRGC, that provides us [with] more and more targets,” Cohen said.
But Ackerman got testy with the administration officials, insisting that the United States doesn’t have “40 years” to pressure Iran, a jab at the U.S. sanctions on Cuba that have so far failed to bring that country to democracy.
Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., demanded “concrete steps” that Congress could take to help further the sanctions, and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, asked directly if the U.S. supports regime change in Iran. Sherman responded: “I think we would support the people of Iran having the same freedoms as all the rest of us have.”
This infuriated Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. “This is not a legitimate government,” he said. “And we can’t even say we believe in regime change. I can see why the mullahs believe we are so weak, they can go and set up bombs in the nation’s capital.”
This article appears in the October 17, 2011 edition of NJ Daily.