WASHINGTON (JTA) – The U.S. Senate, urged by AIPAC and over Obama administration objections, unanimously approved tightened Iran sanctions.
"In an effort to circumvent international sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, some purchasers of Iranian oil and natural gas have been using gold and other precious metals to pay for petroleum products," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a letter Friday to Senators considering the legislation, first proposed by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
"Iran in turn has used these precious metals to circumvent financial sanctions, using them to barter for goods," said the AIPAC letter to senators. "The Menendez-Kirk-Lieberman amendment would close this loophole, without impacting humanitarian trade."
The Obama administration made a last-minute effort to kill the amendment, a move first reported by The Cable, which reports on Congress for Foreign Policy magazine.
In meetings with sponsors, administration officials said the new sanctions would scare off efforts to enlist nations to cooperate with existing sanctions.
"As we focus with our partners on effectively implementing these efforts, we believe additional authorities now threaten to undercut these efforts," Tommy Vietor, the national security spokesman, told The Cable. "We also have concerns with some of the formulations as currently drafted in the text and want to work through them with our congressional partners to make the law more effective and consistent with the current sanctions law to ensure we don’t undercut our success to date."
The legislation, attached as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, passed later Friday unanimously, earning AIPAC’s praise.
"America must continue to lead the international effort to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear pursuit," it said in a statement. "AIPAC urges the immediate implementation of the new sanctions."
Should the House also pass the NDAA, the amendment must survive reconciliation of the House and Senate bills.
President Obama is likely in any case to sign the NDAA, considered to be a critical defense spending bill.