WASHINGTON (JTA) — The top Republican and Democrat House foreign policy members called on the Obama administration to more closely scrutinize nations that do not comply with Iran sanctions.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, convened a hearing Wednesday on imposing tougher sanctions on Iran.
"There seems to be no doubt that Chinese companies are pursuing energy investments and selling Iran refined petroleum," said Berman, who initiated the expanded sanctions act passed earlier this year. "The Chinese acknowledge it. I’d like to know why we haven’t sanctioned any of the Chinese companies engaged in clearly sanctionable actions. I’m concerned that we will not be able to sustain a robust sanctions regime if we don’t impose sanctions in an even-handed manner."
President Obama had sought and received latitude in the bill to waive sanctions against countries he deemed cooperative in otherwise isolating Iran until it suspends its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Also addressing the hearing, where top administration sanctions officials were set to testify, was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is slated to replace Berman as committee chairwoman in the new Congress.
In addition to China, Ros-Lehtinen said Armenia and Turkey had expanded economic ties with Iran, and that Russia had offered defense assistance to Syria, an Iran ally. Ros-Lehtinen noted that Obama’s predecessors had similarly failed to fully enforce previous sanctions in place since 1996.
"We must ensure that the tools we have are used to their maximum effectiveness, and look for new means of compelling Iran to cease activities that threaten our security, our interests and our allies," she said.
Both Ros-Lehtinen and Berman praised countries that had recently added Iran sanctions, including Japan, South Korea and a number of Western nations.
One of the officials scheduled to testify was Stuart Levey, the Treasury undersecretary who is in charge of sanctions. This week, the Treasury added 10 businesses and five individuals to the list of sanctioned entities.
The businesses, according to the Treasury, are front companies for Bank Mellat and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, both already sanctioned as involved in Iran’s alleged efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Iran, meantime, has agreed to send a representative to talks next week in Geneva with the six major powers that shape the international community’s policies on the Islamic Republic: the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.