NY Sun editorial falsely claimed Obama advocates "abandon[ing] economic sanctions" against Iran

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

A New York Sun editorial claimed that Sen. Barack Obama and "many Democrats" advocate that the United States "abandon economic sanctions" against Iran. In fact, Obama introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act on May 17, which would "authorize State and local governments to direct divestiture from, and prevent investment in, companies with investments of $20,000,000 or more in Iran's energy sector."

An October 4 New York Sun editorial claimed that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and "many Democrats" advocate that the United States "abandon economic sanctions" against Iran. In fact, Obama introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act on May 17, which would "authorize State and local governments to direct divestiture from, and prevent investment in, companies with investments of $20,000,000 or more in Iran's energy sector." Obama referred to the legislation in an August 30 New York Daily News op-ed, in which he wrote: "For diplomacy to work, we need to dial up our political and economic pressure -- not just our tough talk."

The Sun editorial criticized Obama's October 2 statement that as president, he would "seek[] a world in which there are no nuclear weapons." According to the Sun, "Mr. Obama's words can only be -- and will be -- seen as the weakening of the American will to ensure that Iran does not get the bomb." Citing an October 2 Washington Post op-ed by Selig S. Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, the Sun editorial claimed that Iran "has set conditions" for a "grand compromise" with the United States that "go beyond requiring our administration to take the path advocated by Senator Obama and many Democrats, namely to abandon economic sanctions and talk of war and enter direct negotiations with the mullahs." Still citing Harrison, the Sun wrote that Iran would "still insist that Israel freeze activity in its alleged nuclear reactor and that America agree to a ban on it using nuclear weapons in the Gulf."

Obama, however, has advocated increasing -- not abandoning -- economic sanctions against Iran, as he wrote in his August 30 Daily News op-ed, headlined "Hit Iran where it Hurts":

The decision to wage a misguided war in Iraq has substantially strengthened Iran, which now poses the greatest strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East in a generation. Iran supports violent groups and sectarian politics in Iraq, fuels terror and extremism across the Middle East and continues to make progress on its nuclear program in defiance of the international community. Meanwhile, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that Israel must be "wiped off the map."

In response, the Bush administration's policy has been tough talk with little action and even fewer results. While conventional Washington thinking says we can only talk to people who agree with us, I believe that strong countries and strong Presidents shouldn't be afraid to talk directly to our adversaries to tell them where America stands. The Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to Iran has not worked. As President, I will use all elements of American power to pressure the Iranian regime, including the power of tough, smart and principled diplomacy.

For diplomacy to work, we need to dial up our political and economic pressure -- not just our tough talk. Iran's troubling behavior depends in large part on access to billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue. That is why I introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act last May, to build on a movement across the country to divest from companies that do significant business with Iran. This would send a clear message about where America stands, increasing Iran's isolation and hitting the Iranian regime where it hurts.

According to a July 27 United Press International analysis, Obama's legislation would strengthen the current sanction laws against Iran:

The Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007, introduced in both the House and the Senate, would strengthen existing legislation by mandating a comprehensive federal list of companies that invest more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector, directing states to divest such company holdings, and protecting pension-fund managers from lawsuits if purified pension funds have poor returns.

The Iran Sanctions Act, first passed as the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in 1996, forbids most business activity between American firms and Iran and threatens penalties for foreign firms that invest more than $20 million in one year in the energy sector. Enforcement has been weak, however, in part because the executive branch has utilized the waiver provision.

As Obama noted in his op-ed, the House version of the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), passed on July 31 by a vote of 408-6, though the Senate version remains stalled due to a "hold" placed on the bill by an anonymous senator.

From the October 4 New York Sun editorial:

Mr. Obama is playing right into President Ahmadinejad's hands. How much of a stretch is it to go from a call for putting an end to all nuclear weapons to agreeing with Iran that there is equivalency between the Iranian nuclear weapons program and, to take one example, Israel's or Britain's or France's or our own? America, moreover, is in the midst of a diplomatic and economic campaign to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. President Bush has chosen the multilateral path that, according to his critics, including Mr. Obama, he eschewed in the run-up to the Iraqi war.

Mr. Obama's words can only be -- and will be -- seen as the weakening of the American will to ensure that Iran does not get the bomb. The connection between Mr. Obama's far-reaching statement on nuclear weapons policy and Iran was highlighted in Tuesday's Washington Post in a dispatch, "Sanctions Won't Stop Tehran," by Selig Harrison, who directs the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy. He argues that Iran has set conditions for a "grand compromise" with America that render such a deal impossible. The conditions go beyond requiring our administration to take the path advocated by Senator Obama and many Democrats, namely to abandon economic sanctions and talk of war and enter direct negotiations with the mullahs.

Mr. Harrison writes that even if America "drops its insistence on the suspension of uranium enrichment as a precondition for dialogue," Iran would not agree to "the terms for denuclearization accepted by North Korea" -- a no-attack pledge, normalized economic and diplomatic relations, economic aid, and removal from the State Department list of terrorist states. Iran, he says, would pocket all that and still insist that Israel freeze activity in its alleged nuclear reactor and that America agree to a ban on it using nuclear weapons in the Gulf. It is clear that such a demand would not be met by Israel.

From Harrison's October 2 Washington Post op-ed:

Suppose that the Bush administration abandons its campaign for economic sanctions, tones down talk of war and opens direct negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program. Suppose also that it drops its insistence on the suspension of uranium enrichment as a precondition for dialogue.

Would Iran accept the terms for denuclearization accepted by North Korea in the direct negotiations that led to the Feb. 13 agreement with Pyongyang and that are now being implemented in fits and starts: a no-attack pledge, normalized economic and diplomatic relations, economic aid, and removal from the U.S. list of terrorist states?

Based on a week of high-level discussions in Tehran recently and on previous visits during earlier stages of the nuclear program, my assessment is that Iran would demand much tougher terms, including a freeze of Israel's Dimona reactor and a ban on the U.S. use of nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf.

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