This ‘omnibus’ sanctions bill combines the provisions of a number of bills requiring the president to impose economic and trade sanctions against Iranian government officials and financial institutions, and companies doing business there. According to its sponsor Howard Berman, the bill is designed to cripple the Iranian economy by limiting its access to refined petroleum (e.g., gasoline, kerosene, and fuel oil) and the international financial system. The bill requires the president to sanction any company that sells refined petroleum products to Iran, shipping companies that transport the products, and companies that insure them.
The president may waive application of these measures against individual companies and persons if he finds it in U.S. national security interests and reports his justification for the waiver to Congress. The administration wanted authority to grant blanket exemptions for cooperating countries and the companies based there, but key members of the House and Senate, as well as AIPAC, opposed such broad waiver authority.
The bill further states the finding of Congress that Iran’s nuclear program and support for international terrorism threaten Israel, and the sense of Congress that U.S. policy should be to counter the support given to Hizballah by Iran and other countries by imposing sanctions on Hizballah and renewing international efforts to disarm it.
The bill and its Senate companion measure (S. 908 of 4/28/09) were originally introduced days before AIPAC’s 2009 annual policy conference opened on 2 May. It ended on 5 May with a lobbying day on Capitol Hill, when thousands of AIPAC supporters met with their representatives and senators to press for AIPAC-backed legislative initiatives, of which the Senate and House versions of this bill were the top priority. Additionally, on 10 September 2009, some 200 representatives of national Jewish organizations lobbied Congress and the Obama administration to support the bill in an initiative dubbed the National Jewish Leadership Advocacy on Iran. The effort was organized by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Iran led by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, among others.
By the beginning of 2010, the bill had already passed in the House, and the Senate had passed its own version. But with the two bodies required to reconcile the differences and agree on an identical text, the bill stalled, as leaders in the House, especially Foreign Affairs committee chairman Berman, held up the reconciliation process to allow President Obama to pursue multilateral sanctions against Iran through the UN Security Council. An article published on 3/6/10 by the New York Times revealing that the past three U.S. administrations had awarded contracts, grants, and loans worth $170 m. to companies doing business with Iran in defiance of existing sanctions laws introduced a sense of urgency to pass the bill. In response, AIPAC President David Victor and Executive Director Howard Kohr made the rare move of sending a public letter to every member of Congress calling on them to investigate why successive administrations failed to implement existing U.S. sanctions on Iran, to enact this bill without delay, and to demand the Obama administration enforce existing sanctions.
On 3/17/10, AIPAC circulated a memo titled ‘Crippling Sanctions Needed to Prevent Nuclear Iran.’ Two days later, two letters (covering many of the same points) began circulating, one in the Senate and one in the House, for signatures and eventual delivery to President Obama. After laying out the advanced state of Israel’s nuclear program, the letters urged Obama to take immediate action (1) to stop Iran’s nuclear program because of the threat posed to the U.S., Israel, and the region; (2) to impose unilateral sanctions without any delay caused by inaction at the UN; (3) to enforce existing sanctions; and (4) to implement the sanctions in this bill. The Senate letter was