Jews lobby for Iran sanctions

By Hilary Krieger, September 18, 2009

American Jewish organisations are intensifying their calls for the US Congress to enact strict sanctions on Iran, as Tehran continues to make progress on its nuclear programme.

Their activism comes amidst signs that the US might be getting more serious about sanctions. But they might find that the hardest opposition comes from Europeans, whose companies will be hurt by the measures.

Congress proposed sanctions legislation in the spring but did not attempt to enact it in order to give the new US administration time to see if diplomacy could work.

Now, with US President Barack Obama’s late September deadline for Iran to agree to talks looming, and with a more sceptical American attitude to Tehran following the Iranian presidential election fiasco this summer, legislators are indicating they are more willing to take action.

“Thus far Iran has thumbed its nose at President Obama’s generous offer to engage,” US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman told more than 300 Jewish activists who were in Washington last week to lobby for greater pressure on Tehran. “If Iran does not reverse course, absent some compelling evidence as to why I should do otherwise, I will mark up my bill next month and begin the process of tightening the screws on Iran.”

The Jewish groups later visited individual members of Congress to push for quick passage of the measure, which would penalise exporters of refined petroleum to Iran, on which the Islamic Republic is reliant.

But they also visited European embassies to enlist the support of the countries whose companies would suffer from the sanctions. US businesses are already barred from selling to Iran, so it is the Europeans — the very countries the Obama administration could eventually enlist for broader, multi-lateral sanction efforts — who could be hurt should the new law pass.

Sanctions expert Michael Jacobson, who used to work at the US Department of Treasury, warned about a “backlash” among European countries.

“It won’t be simple” to pass effective legislation without alienating needed allies, he said.

On the other hand, Mr Jacobson noted that the threat of legislation can be a good motivator.

As Mr Berman said after his address, “I’ve never known the Europeans to love these kind of proposals. One solution is for them to take their own kinds of actions.”

Last updated: 5:42pm, September 24 2009