Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 100

As expected, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on May 22 to approve legislation imposing sanctions on companies or other organizations found to be exporting missile technology to Iran. The Senate vote, which came despite the opposition of the Clinton administration, is clearly aimed at Russia. Moscow has been repeatedly accused by both the United States and Israel of failing to control missile technology exports to Iran. The bill, called the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, would require the administration to identify foreign companies or other entities that aid Iranian efforts to develop ballistic missiles. Once identified, violators would face sanctions–including denial of arms and foreign assistance–for two years. The president could waive the sanctions for reasons for national security.

The Clinton administration opposed the bill and had fought to delay the May 22 vote. It argued that sanctions are often counterproductive and might actually reduce Washington’s ability to stop Russian missile technology exports to Iran. But supporters of the bill, which had strong bipartisan backing, countered that the administration’s diplomatic overtures to Russia on the issue had thus far failed to produce results. Senators appeared also to be influenced by the Clinton administration’s recent decision to waive sanctions against a consortium of three companies–from France, Russia and Malaysia–participating in a project to develop an Iranian gas field. Many lawmakers disagreed with the administration’s decision on that matter.

The Clinton administration did win one concession on the May 22 bill. Senators approved an amendment by which sanctions are to be imposed on technology transfers to Iran that occurred after January 22 of this year. That is the date the Russian government adopted new export controls. A version of the bill approved earlier by the U.S. Congress had made sanctions retroactive to August of 1995. The House is not scheduled to take up the Senate bill until after its two-week Memorial Day break. Some Clinton aides are reportedly advising the president to veto the bill, but the May 22 vote suggests that lawmakers would have little trouble overriding a veto. (AP, UPI, May 22; The New York Times, The Washington Post, May 23)