New York Sun: With President Bush securing a new round of European sanctions on Iran's banks, he and Congress are looking to additional measures to squeeze the mullahs at the gasoline pump.
The New York Sun
Bush, Congress Look to Sanctions
By ELI LAKE, Staff Reporter of the Sun
WASHINGTON — With President Bush securing a new round of European sanctions on Iran's banks, he and Congress are looking to additional measures to squeeze the mullahs at the gasoline pump.
Legislation is circulating in Congress, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that would punish oil traders and transporters that sell refined gasoline to Iran. While the Islamic Republic is one of the world's leading exporters of crude petroleum, the country lacks the refining capacity to turn an estimated 40% of its crude oil into gasoline. Earlier this year, the country saw gas riots after President Ahmadinejad tried to impose gasoline rationing.
American policy will likely hinge on the results of a Department of Energy study examining the effect of such a sanctions regime on the Iranians and world oil markets. It is a softer policy version of a plan to embargo the Iranian import of refined gasoline. An embargo, however would likely push the price of gasoline in America even higher and would plunge America into an open war with Iran.
Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois who requested the study last year, said he was awaiting the results from the Energy Information Administration.
"It is an important study," Mr. Kirk said in a telephone interview. "But its importance can be overstated." Mr. Kirk for more than a year has pressed his colleagues in the House to support a plan that would spur the international community to "quarantine" the refined petroleum Iran sought to import. The legislation, which now has 47 co-sponsors from both parties, was introduced in 2007 as the Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act. Some similar ideas are included in the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, which is supported by Aipac.
Mr. Kirk said his bill would authorize the American Treasury to approach the underwriters at Lloyd's of London that insure the tankers that service the Iranian market and offer to buy out their contracts. He would also limit or restrict the amount of gasoline Iran would be allowed to import until the Islamic Republic was in compliance with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and the additional protocol it signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"If we do not take our inspiration from President Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis, we leave ourselves two options," Mr. Kirk said. "Either we leave this to the United Nations and that is a slow path for Iran getting a nuclear weapon; or the second option is an Israeli attack which is unpredictable and expensive. My inspiration is from President Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis, which delivered a win for the United States without resorting to military means."
Mr. Kirk said that he anticipated the Iranians might respond to his plan by cutting off all petroleum production in protest. "The mullahs have said if you quarantine gasoline sales, they will suspend the sale of oil, but then the Iranian economy implodes even more quickly," Mr. Kirk said. "The markets would look then to the swing producers, particularly Saudi Arabia, to see if they would make up the difference. I think a lot of countries would make up the difference. Remember there is no love lost between the Arab kingdoms and Iran."
President Bush told assembled heads of state at the annual U.S.-European Union Summit in Slovenia, "Iran with a nuclear weapon would be incredibly dangerous for world peace. So we've got to continue to work together to make it clear, abundantly clear, to them that it's their choice to make. They can either face isolation or they can have better relations with all of us if they verifiably suspend enrichment."
A sanctions agreement signed yesterday between the European Union and America includes a clause that states additional measures may be taken if Iran does not, in a verifiable manner, suspend the enrichment of uranium that it began in 2006.
Senator McCain has also said he endorses a policy to target Iran's import of gasoline. "Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons," he told the annual Aipac policy conference last week.
One senior official on the McCain campaign yesterday said the candidate did not endorse an embargo. "He was not talking about a naval embargo or blockade of Iran," this official said. "A voluntary withdrawal from the Iranian markets of the companies providing gasoline is one option."
The deputy director for research for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson, yesterday said that he favored an approach on the gasoline exporters to Iran that was similar to the pressure the Treasury Department has applied to international banks regarding Iran's banking sector. "The advantage of private companies deciding to withdraw on their own from the Iranian market is that this is not an act of war, but it would have dramatic impact on Iran's economy," Mr. Clawson said.