The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee considers the passage of Iran sanctions legislation as a "component" of the administration’s strategy to prevent Iran from obatining nuclear weapons.
"The administration didn’t say go ahead but they didn’t say not to go ahead," Berman told reporters after the 412-12 passage of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act Tuesday afternoon.
He said the House passage of the legislation empowers the administraiton to put out the message that "here’s the way Congress wants to go, and we think there’s a better way, but this issue will not go away."
Berman said the big question about Iran is "how soon will the international community conclude that without rigorous sanctions, the diplomatic approach gets nowhere," although he said that he is "more optimistic than I’ve been since this became an issue" that the international community is poised to act.
IRPSA will strengthen the president’s authority to sanction companies that help Iran import or produce refined petroleum, which is seen as potentially having a large impact on Iran’s economy because the country imports 40 percent of its refined petroleum. The measure also requires the White House to report 90 days after passage, and every six months thereafter, on any person who has provided Iran with refined petroleum or engaged in any activity that would assist them in acquiring it.
A Senate version of the bill is unlikely to pass before the beginning of next year, after the Obama administration urged the body to slow down progress on the legislation as it attempts to garner backing for multilateral sanctions. The Obama administration also wants to see some changes to the measure.
Berman (D-Calif.) noted that the Senate bill is more expansive in its provisions and said he was "always open" to changes in a conference committee that would make the legislation "equally effective."
Specifically, he said he was willing to exempt foreign countries which already have strong sanctions in place from being covered by the bill.
In response to questions, Berman also made a strong defense of the type of sanctions contained in the bill, which some on the left have argued would not be effective and could hurt the Iranian people.
"Sometimes the term ‘smart sanctions’ is a euphemism for ineffective sanctions," he said. Any effective sanctions are going to have some effect on the Iranian population, he said, but "the courageous people in the street" are not going to all of a sudden shift into supporters of the regime because of the small sacrifice they may have to make in order to keep pressure on a government they detest.