State Lawmakers Ramp Up Anti-Iran Push

Analysts Say Only Strong White House Action Really Matters

Nuclear Option: Iranians pray in support of their country’s nuclear program. State lawmakers are pushing for sanctions against the Islamic republic, but experts discount their impact.
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Nuclear Option: Iranians pray in support of their country’s nuclear program. State lawmakers are pushing for sanctions against the Islamic republic, but experts discount their impact.

By Nathan Guttman

Published November 24, 2011, issue of December 02, 2011.
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As the Obama administration imposes new economic sanctions against Iran in an effort to get it to abandon its nuclear program, some state legislatures are ramping up sanctions of their own.

Following the lead of California and Florida, New York state is now considering a ban on contracts with all companies doing business with Iran. The new legislation enjoys bipartisan support and is expected to pass. But so far, only these three states have responded to the call issued by some advocacy groups for states to contribute to the escalating American sanctions regime.

“It has a very marginal effect,” said Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East Affairs with the Congressional Research Service, referring to state sanctions. Katzman, who has done extensive work on the impact of sanctions against Iran, believes that to make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program, the United States would have to get Russia and China to stop working with Iran’s oil industry. That is a goal currently beyond the reach of American diplomacy.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundations for Defense of Democracies, acknowledged that all sanction measures taken together “will not amount to a silver bullet.” But they might, he said, be “silver shrapnel that will injure the Iranian regime.” Dubowitz stressed that no measure, big or small, should be discounted in the push to stop Iran. “State sanctions and divestments are important elements that mutually reinforce federal sanctions,” said Dubowitz, who recently testified on Iran sanctions at a hearing held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

On November 21, the administration announced a new round of sanctions against Iran that included tightening measures against its oil and petrochemical industries, and applying more scrutiny to financial institutions dealing with Iran to prevent money laundering. These measures were viewed as closing loopholes in existing sanctions rather than as a new phase in the sanctions regime.

Experts point to two measures that could deal a definitive blow to Iran’s economy: blocking international use of Iran’s refined oil, or targeting the nation’s central bank, a move that has already gained support in Congress. But either move would inflict pain on the United States and the global economy, as both could lead to a spike in oil prices worldwide.

State-level boycotts offer local lawmakers a way to join the global effort against Iran’s alleged attempt to develop nuclear weapons and to amplify a message to the business community about the price companies working or investing in Iran will pay.


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