The Iran sanctions do-si-do continues. In response to Iranian intransigence on the nuclear issue, everyone says that they want U.S.-imposed economic sanctions on businesses that do business with Iran, particularly those that sell it gasoline (Iran has plenty of petroleum, but lacks sufficient refining capability). AIPAC does. The House and the Senate have both passed bills that would impose them. Even J Street supports them. And the Obama administration does, too.

But the Obama folks see the threat of sanctions as more valuable than actual sanctions. What they’d really prefer are international sanctions—which is to say, from the U.N. Security Council. They think, correctly, that these would be more effective

Which is why it’s unsurprising to learn that the administration is looking to relax the sanctions bill currently in a joint House-Senate committee so as to exempt some Russian and Chinese firms, and those of other “cooperating countries.” The idea is less to reward them for cooperating and more to entice them to cooperate. (The executive branch would have the authority to designate these countries.)

“It’s incredible the administration is asking for exemptions, under the table and winking and nodding, before the legislation is signed into law,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) told the Washington Times.

She’s right on the facts: “Under the table and winking and nodding” is a completely fair definition. Thing is, though, that may be okay. Argued Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “If the administration can use this ‘cooperating-countries’ waiver to get cooperation from a country like China on enforcing the U.N. sanctions and on suspending investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry, then this bill will be a great success.” Regardless of whether its sanctions actually end up sanctioning much of anything.

White House Seeks To Soften Iran Sanctions [Washington Times]
Earlier: Senate Approves Iran Sanctions