The Cable

Iran sanctions amendment emerges from conference largely intact

The House-Senate conference on the defense authorization bill preserved an amendment imposing strict new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), despite administration objections and efforts to influence the negotiations.

"The Central Bank of Iran is the primary bankroller of Iran's global terror network, its nuclear program and other illicit activities. The time has come to collapse this terrorist and proliferation-financing institution," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said in a statement to The Cable Tuesday. "I applaud [House Armed Services Committee] Chairman [Buck] McKeon and Senator [John] McCain for successfully resisting most of the administration's attempts to weaken the bipartisan Menendez-Kirk amendment. Moving forward, the Congress will need to be more vigilant than ever before in holding the administration's feet to the fire to collapse the Central Bank of Iran and force international financial institutions to choose between doing business in the U.S. and doing business in Iran."

Inside the closed door conference on the defense bill, conferees did make some small changes to the Menendez-Kirk amendment, which not only penalizes the CBI but any foreign bank that does business with it. The changes gave the president slightly more flexibility in waiving some of the sanctions on national security grounds, and added the secretary of state and the director of national intelligence as consultants to a future report on how the sanctions will affect the world oil markets.

In a press release Monday night, the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees touted the strength of the new measures.

"The conference report includes a powerful new regime of sanctions against the financial sector of Iran, including the Central Bank of Iran," the release stated. "These sanctions would, among other actions, require foreign financial institutions to choose between maintaining ties with the U.S. financial system or doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, especially for the purchase of Iranian petroleum and petroleum products. The conference report includes four modifications to the Senate language, but preserves the scope and implementation timeline of the Senate provision."

The administration had argued publicly and privately against the Menendez-Kirk language, claiming it could alienate certain countries, making it more difficult to isolate Iran, and raise oil prices, which could actually help the Iranian economy. Its opposition to the amendment angered Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who had worked with the administration and Kirk on the sanctions before the administration came out against it.

All 100 senators voted for the Menendez-Kirk amendment, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who defended the amendment and the administration position simultaneously at a Tuesday morning event hosted by National Journal.

"It's a matter of timing and process, the administration is moving in that direction but they want to do it on their own schedule," Kerry said. "If I had been a member of the administration I would have probably have said ‘wait.' I'm not and I voted the way I voted ... it may be helpful to [the administration] and helpful to the country in the long run."

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The Cable

Eisen gets confirmed by Senate; Aponte not so much

The Senate voted late Monday to confirm Norm Eisen as ambassador the Czech Republic, but held up the stalled nomination of Maria Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador.

Both Eisen and Aponte are already serving at the posts under recess appointments that were due to expire at the end of this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for two cloture votes Monday night to get past Republican holds on the nominees. The Senate voted to overrule the hold on Eisen by a 70-16 vote, and he was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote shortly after. The Senate failed to override the hold on Aponte. The vote on proceeding to debate over her confirmation failed 49-37.

"Senate Republicans once again put politics above policy by blocking the confirmation of a dedicated public servant," Reid said in a statement following the Aponte vote. "In the fifteen months Mari Carmen Aponte has served as our ambassador to El Salvador, she finalized an important international, anti-crime agreement and forged a strong partnership between our nations. The Puerto Rican community and all Americans are right to be proud of Ms. Aponte's accomplishments as a diplomat representing our nation, as I am."

"I am disappointed Republicans continued a long-running trend of obstructing qualified nominees just to score political points. Unfortunately, defeating President [Barack] Obama is more important to Senate Republicans than confirming qualified nominees to represent our country in Latin America," said Reid.

There was broad GOP opposition to the Aponte confirmation, led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). It is unlikely Democrats will try to confirm her again before adjourning for the holiday break. There is also no sign yet that Senate Democratic leadership will try to bring up the confirmation of Matthew Bryza, whose recess appointment as ambassador to Azerbaijan is about to expire, or the confirmation of Mike McFaul, whose nomination to be ambassador to Russia is being held up by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable Tuesday morning that he would try to move more nominations this week but he didn't have any specifics.