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Iran-Libya Sanctions Act and House Resolution 212

August 17, 2001

(WASHINGTON, DC) Both the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) and House Resolution 212 passed by wide margins. I voted against both pieces of legislation for very important reasons related to safeguarding our vital interests and standing in the international community. At first glance, it may appear stunning that anyone could oppose such an apparent "consensus." Generally, Congress only passes legislation by such wide margins in two instances: either when the issue is so uncontroversial as to require no debate, or when the issue is so controversial as to actually suppress debate. On inspection it becomes clear that both "no" votes were the right thing to do.

The story of the current crop of economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool is a tale of one foreign policy failure after another--whether in Iran, Libya, Iraq, or Cuba. To date, these sanctions have succeeded only in harming innocent civilians, hurting American businesses, straining ties with our allies, and damaging U.S. standing in the international community. These sanctions have not achieved their stated objectives. Almost forty years and nine U.S. Presidents after sanctions were first imposed on Cuba, Fidel Castro remains firmly in control. Likewise, eleven years of sanctions against Iraq have neither ended Saddam Hussein's brutal rule nor brought him into compliance with UN resolutions. In fact, sanctions may have actually helped to consolidate Saddam's brutal rule by decimating the only segment of society that could have challenged him--Iraq's once vibrant middle class. In the case of Iraq, the hungry do not rebel and the dead do not lead.

The sanctions imposed on Iran and Libya during the last five years have not escaped this cycle of failure. These sanctions unfairly penalize U.S. companies. William Reinsch, Chairman of the USA-Engage coalition of U.S. businesses, observed that the "sanctions law has failed because it has not stopped foreign companies from investing in Iran or Libya, and overall unilateral U.S. sanctions have hurt American firms." Importantly, while Iranians have voted overwhelmingly in favor of reform and democratization in three consecutive elections (including President Khatami's recent landslide reelection), our policy has not matched these dramatic changes. Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Ambassador Robert Pelletreau, urged my colleagues in the House and Senate not to renew sanctions against Iran because such a move "will further fuel perceptions that U.S. policy is hostile and encourage antagonistic Iranian policies, thus creating a deadlock for the foreseeable future." Pelletreau also suggested that "many of our interests would be better served through dialogue with Iran." It is rather ironic that as the United States encourages warring parties all over the world--even those engaged in bloody decades-long conflicts--to talk to one another, it steadfastly refuses to sit down and talk to its own enemies. Sanctions are simply too blunt an instrument to deal with the nuances of diplomacy and effective foreign policy making. It's time we adopted a new approach.

With regard to the upcoming United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, I feel very strongly about U.S. participation in this important gathering. The WCAR is particularly important to African-Americans, other people of color, and whites of good conscience in this country. A decision by the United States to stay away from the conference--for whatever reason--would undermine our commitment to ending racism, racial intolerance, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance and send the wrong message to those in the United States and the international community who are affected by racism.

That is why Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and I cosponsored House Resolution 211. Unlike House Resolution 212, our bill calls for the United States to participate in the World Conference Against Racism at the highest levels and without any preconditions. As a government, we may disagree with aspects of the Draft Declaration--many other countries will no doubt have their own issues with the Declaration. However, controversy is not a legitimate reason to prohibit debate or to justify a boycott of the entire Conference. This gathering is simply too important to too many Americans to be conditioned in any way. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Leadership Committee for Civil Rights, and over one hundred nongovernmental organizations support this position. House Resolution 212 simply did not go far enough in urging unconditional U.S. participation in this important conference. Only our full participation in the World Conference Against Racism will demonstrate U.S. leadership, safeguard our credibility, and help us begin to heal old wounds. Anything short of this, in my view, will be disastrous.

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