After taking heat for his initial stance on a congressional measure that would cripple Iran’s central bank, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) is ready to "set the record straight."
In a statement e-mailed to me just a bit ago, Berman claims that his stance on the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions amendment was distorted purely for political purposes.
After telling me that he would work closely with the Obama administration to ensure that sanctions are both "tough and sensible," Berman came under fire from fellow Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who told me that the administration’s only goal is to weaken the sanctions measure.
Berman and Sherman are set to duke it out in the upcoming election now that their respective congressional districts have been merged into one so, naturally, they are looking to flex their pro-Israel credentials.
In the statement issued to me tonight, Berman states that "the Menendez-Kirk amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act is a good amendment that would also impose sanctions on the Central Bank."
Berman, though, has one major reservation about the measure as is: "My only hesitation about the amendment is that it would delay sanctions on petroleum transactions for 180 days after enactment."
His full statement is worth reading in full:
My position on sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank has been intentionally distorted for purely political reasons. So let me set the record straight.
In early November, I was the first member of the House or Senate to propose legislation sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran, which plays a key role in financing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. I offered an amendment to H.R. 1905, the Iran Threat Reduction Act, which would impose crippling sanctions on the Central Bank within 30 days after enactment. My amendment enjoyed unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Menendez-Kirk amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act is a good amendment that would also impose sanctions on the Central Bank, and it has the advantage of being in a bill that will be enacted sooner than H.R. 1905. My only hesitation about the amendment is that it would delay sanctions on petroleum transactions for 180 days after enactment.
In many ways, this extended timeframe could be beneficial, as it would allow the President time to build an international coalition to support sanctions against the Central Bank, and to address any disruptions to the world oil market.
However, we should consider whether waiting a full six months to penalize the Central Bank for transactions that provide Iran the bulk of its revenue will enable the regime to cross a key threshold in acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. This delay would mean that Iran could install more centrifuges at its hardened underground facility at Qom, giving them the ability to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to finally achieve an actual nuclear weapons capability. It may be that the only way to convince Iran to stop before crossing this threshold is to impose these sanctions sooner.
The conferees should consider this issue very carefully.