The Cable

David Cohen nomination back on track

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) has lifted his hold on the nomination of David Cohen to be the top sanctions official at the Treasury Department following the administration's announcement of several targeted sanctions against Iran.

Cohen, whose nomination to replace Stuart Levey as undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence had been stalled in the Senate, now could be confirmed as early as this week. Kirk, who had issued the hold late last month due to concerns over the administration's lack of enforcement of sanctions against Iran, released his hold late last week after Treasury designated Iranian companies such as Iran Air and Tidewater Middle East for sanctions under the Comprehensive Iran Sanction, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA).

"I applaud Acting Under Secretary David Cohen for moving decisively to designate Iran Air and a major Iranian port operator responsible for facilitating Iran's illicit transfer of weapons and other proliferation activities. Both designations will significantly restrict shipping to and from Iran and put even more pressure on the Iranian economy," Kirk said in a June 23 statement. "Under Secretary Cohen has proven himself to be a worthy successor to former Under Secretary Levey. He has my confidence."

A Kirk aide confirmed to The Cable that this statement was an acknowledgement that Kirk had removed his hold on Cohen's nomination. The aide said that Kirk, Cohen, and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), had a series of meetings and exchanged letters over the last month. Kirk was also reassured by their most recent meeting about two weeks ago.

"After their last meeting, Sen. Kirk lifted his hold and decided to back the nomination," the Kirk aide said. "[The nomination] has already gone through Finance and Banking so it could be hotlined for Senate confirmation before the Fourth of July recess."

"Hotlined" is shorthand for a Senate practice wherein the Senate majority leader sends around a message notifying all senators that a nomination is coming to the floor forthwith. If nobody objects, the nomination can quickly be confirmed by voice vote.

In fact, one Senate source told The Cable that the Cohen nomination could reach the Senate floor as soon as Tuesday, as part of a large nominations package the Senate leadership is preparing now.

Last week's Treasury Department action against Iran Air and Tidewater is just the latest in a series of administration moves to use the tools under CISADA to increase pressure on various parts of the Iranian government and the Iranian economy.

On May 24, the State Department rolled out sanctions against seven companies accused of doing business with Iran's energy sector. Those designations came one day after the Senate unveiled an entirely new Iran sanctions bill -- though that legislation doesn't appear to have the administration's support, as then Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg told The Cable it was totally unnecessary.

Steinberg also announced on May 24 that the administration had separately decided to impose sanctions on 16 additional foreign firms and individuals, including three Chinese firms, under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), which prohibits involvement of foreign companies in those countries' missile and WMD programs..

Then, on June 9, State announced sanctions on three Iranian government entities involved in human rights abuses, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Basij Resistance Force, and Iran's Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) -- as well as LEF Commander Ismail Ahmadi Moghadam.

The June 23 action against Iran Air and Tidewater was a joint State/Treasury effort. It was significant because it targeted the IRGC's main shipping companies, and because the administration also promised to continue imposing more sanctions.

"The steps we have taken this week seek to limit Iran's ability to use the global financial system to pursue illicit activities. We have made important progress in isolating Iran, but we cannot waver," State and Treasury said in a joint statement. "Our efforts must be unrelenting to sharpen the choice for Iran's leaders to abandon their dangerous course."

One issue Kirk has been pushing in recent days concerns the huge contracts between the Defense Department and Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company (KGL), which may have ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), an entity long accused of operating a web of shell companies to evade sanctions, and three other Iranian companies already on the banned list of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

KGL was recently awarded a nearly $750 million contract by the U.S. Army and another $42 million sole-source contract by the Defense Logistics Agency. Kirk now wants to know if the U.S. military is indirectly putting money into Iranian government coffers.

"I am certain you agree that a prompt investigation is warranted due to the sensitive nature of the contracting work conducted by KGL for our men and women in uniform," Kirk wrote in a June 21 letter to OFAC Director Adam Szubin.

That letter was a follow-up to another letter Kirk sent May 26 to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, where he pointed out that KGL helped operate the ports used for Iran's nuclear program and also has influence and control over U.S. military supply lines. Gates has yet to respond to Kirk.

Kirk's research staff has also compiled an extensive file on KGL's suspicious activities and associations, which can be found here.

One senior GOP senate aide said it was ironic that the Obama administration has designated for sanctions the Israeli firm Ofer Brothers Group for doing business with Iranian entities that are suspicious but not designated as banned by OFAC, while allowing the U.S. military to do business with similarly suspect firms.

"We're now at a place where the Defense Department is holding itself to a lower threshold of due diligence for military contracts than the standard applied to foreign governments and foreign corporations in business dealings with regard to Iran sanctions legislation," the aide said.

The Cable

Despite vote, majority of Congressmen want to defund the Libya war

Obama administration officials are claiming a partial victory today because the House rejected a measure to defund the Libya war, even after rejecting a separate measure that would have authorized the war. But the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to put lipstick on the pig of today's admonishment of the administration by Congress,  saying that she was "gratified that the House has decisively rejected efforts to limit funding" for the intervention. She was referring to the House's rejection of a bill put forth by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) that would have shut off the spigot of funds for most, but not all, U.S. military operations in Libya.

The vote failed 180-238 - but, in fact, there were more than enough lawmakers to pass the measure. Of the 149 Democrats who stuck with the president, up to 70 of them are totally opposed to the Libya intervention and want to see it completely defunded as soon as possible. They voted "no" on the Rooney's bill because they thought it was too weak, did not cut off all funds, and implicitly authorized the intervention.  

These 70 Democrats make up the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), the largest caucus within the House Democratic Caucus, whose leadership includes Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).

"Members of Congress voted no because the bill provided funding and legal authority for everything we're currently doing. It was back door authorization. Members didn't support authorizing what we're doing now in Libya," Michael Shank, Honda's spokesman, told The Cable. "The majority of the CPC voted no on the Rooney vote because of this."

In other words, if the GOP had put forth a stronger anti-Libya resolution, the progressive Democrats would have joined them and it would have passed. Despite what Clinton or other administration officials may say, the bill's failure cannot be seen as an endorsement of the Libya war.

The argument that the Rooney bill indirectly authorized the Libya war was made Friday on the House floor by many, including Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who said:

"This bill purports to cut off funding for combat in Libya. In doing so it simply forbids what the constitution already forbids, the waging of war without explicit congressional authorization. But then it specifically grants to the president what up until now he has completely lacked: Congressional authority to engage in every conceivable belligerent act short of actually pulling the trigger."

"Refueling bombers on their way to targets, identifying and selecting targets, guiding munitions to their targets, logistical support, operational planning... these are all acts of war in direct support of belligerence at war and this bill authorizes them," he said. "Let's not enter a war through the backdoor when we have already decided not to enter it through the front."

And in case there was any doubt on the CPC's position, their leaders issued the following statement:

The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Taskforce call on Congress and the President to immediately end our war in Libya.  The US has been engaged in hostilities for over 90 days without congressional approval, which undermines not only the powers of the legislative branch but also the legal checks and balances put in place nearly 40 years ago to avoid abuse by any single branch of government.

We call on our colleagues in Congress to exercise their legitimate authority and oversight and immediately block any funding for this war. Before the Executive branch further weakens the War Powers Resolution, and before we attack another country in the name of our "responsibility to protect," we must recommit ourselves to our Constitutional duty and obligation to hold the purse strings and the right to declare war.  For decades, the House recognized the need for appropriate checks and balances before another war was waged. We must do the same. We call on Congress to exhibit similar foresight by promptly ending this war and pledging to uphold the laws that characterize America's commitment to democratic governance.