Wall Street Journal: Members of the Appropriations Committee expressed concerns that the U.S. Treasury office that pursues sanctions against Iran and North Korea might be stretched too thin, as the administration begins to punish Russia over Ukraine.
The Wall Street Journal
By Joel Schectman
A rare scene in Capitol Hill these days: Lawmakers insisted an agency leader needed more money, but he continued to demur.
Members of the Appropriations Committee expressed concerns that the U.S. Treasury office that pursues sanctions against Iran and North Korea might be stretched too thin, as the administration begins to punish Russia over Ukraine. Lawmakers questioned Undersecretary David Cohen, who leads Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, on whether President Barack Obama’s budget request for the agency was large enough.
Mr. Obama has requested $105.9 million for the Office, an increase of about $4 million. But some lawmakers wondered aloud whether that would be enough to handle the Office’s increasing responsibilities. “Under the president’s budget you will get $4 million more but you are getting a lot more work,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.)
Over the past ten years, the number of U.S. sanctions programs has ballooned from 17 to 34, said Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.). And the Office has taken on a broader role in recent years as Mr. Obama has sought to toughen penalties against Iran and use sanctions to go after international criminal groups. The Office’s work is poised to expand further as Mr. Obama seeks to use sanctions to penalize Russia over the annexation of Crimea
“There is no temp agency to which you can turn to…I think you need more resources.,” Mr. Coons said. “If we were to give you more resources could you put them to effective use?”
Mr. Cohen responded that the budget request was enough to continue to enforce existing sanctions on Iran and deal with new threats. “We haven’t taken our eye off the ball [on Iran] even as we’ve turned towards Ukraine.”
Separately, lawmakers expressed concerns that companies would use the easing of sanctions on Iran as an opportunity to skirt the rules. “Once the door is open, there’s a temptation for countries to squeeze it open further,” said Sen. Mike Johanns (R.,Neb.).
But Mr. Cohen said a number of actions against sanctions violators in recent months has put companies on notice. And few are using the easing as an opportunity to move into Iran, he said. “We gave concrete examples that anyone who tries to violates sanctions, as the president said, ‘we’ll come down on like a ton of bricks,’” Mr. Cohen said.