NEW YORK (JTA) — The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is calling on the U.S. Congress to take several immediate steps in response to a New York Times report revealing that the federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in grants, contracts and other benefits to foreign and multinational U.S. companies conducting business in Iran.
In a rare move, the pro-Israel lobby has sent a sharply worded letter to every member of Congress calling for an investigation into why three successive administrations have failed under existing law to determine what companies have invested in the Iranian energy sector.
The letter demands that the U.S. government "enforce existing sanctions law and impose crippling new sanctions on Iran," including legislation before Congress that "contains provisions barring federal contracts to companies which are investing in Iran’s energy sector or providing sensitive technology, and their parents or subsidiaries who are engaged in such activity."
"We are writing to every member of Congress to express outrage at the U.S. government’s continuing relationship with dozens of companies doing business with Iran," AIPAC’s president, David Victor, and executive director, Howard Kohr, wrote in the March 9 letter. "These ongoing financial dealings undermine longstanding American efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability."
In a rarity for AIPAC, the letter raises questions about the performance of President Obama, as well as his two predecessors.
"While Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama may have discouraged some investment in Iran through their rhetoric," the AIPAC leaders wrote, "the United States has sent the American and international business community a contradictory message by failing to enforce the law."
The letter comes less than two weeks before the start of AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, where thousands of pro-Israel activists fan out on Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers on the organization’s top agenda items.
Earlier this week, following the report in The New York Times, U.S. lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill that strengthens U.S. sanctions against Iran.
The Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act, which was unveiled Monday in the House of Representatives, is an amendment to the Iran Sanctions Act adopted in 1996. The enhancement measure would require the Government Accountability Office to publish a list of potential sanctions act violators every month, require the president to complete investigations of violators within 45 days and notify Congress of entities in violation of the sanctions act.
While the U.S. government does prohibit most types of trade between American companies and Iran, multiple administrations have struggled to exert the ban over foreign companies and foreign subsidiaries of American companies.
In theory, foreign companies can be punished for investing more than $20 million per year to develop Iran’s oil and gas fields, but punishments such as withholding government contracts have never been enforced for fear of angering U.S. allies, mostly in the European Union.