The Obama administration may be testing a diplomatic opening with Iran, but the Senate is putting the finishing touches on a new bill to tighten punitive sanctions on the country in response to its continued nuclear enrichment.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is expected to introduce the bipartisan legislation "in the coming weeks," an aide confirmed, with plans to move the bill swiftly through the Senate.
While initially slated for a September introduction, the timing of the legislation has been thrown off by the debate over continued funding for the federal government and a possible government shutdown. Still, Congress is on track to have another round of Iran sanctions legislation on the president's desk by the end of the year.
And as Mark Dubowitz, a sanctions expert and executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which supports the U.S. sanctions regime, pointed out, Iran cannot easily stop pumping oil because it would harm its production capacity, nor does it have the facilities to store all the oil it produces. In that event, Tehran's best option might be to sell its oil and accept little in return.
Oil buyers in Asia would get a good deal, soothing any potential anger over the new restrictions, Dubowitz suggested. "Increasingly they're going to get Iranian oil for free," he said, adding, via email, that "These countries don't have to pay in hard currency, can keep earning nice profits off the Iranian oil funds locked up in their accounts, and won't be permitted over time to sell non-humanitarian goods to Iran, which represents an insignificant export market."