Ros-Lehtinen: State Dep’t Skipping Mandatory Sanctions Reporting to ‘Appease’ Iran

By Patrick Goodenough | June 19, 2015 | 4:55am EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif chat during a break in the nuclear talks in Switzerland. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Government Accountability Office findings that the State Department is not complying with a congressionally-mandated reporting cycle on proliferation-related sanctions are “disturbing because of what they tell us about the lengths that the administration will go to to appease the Iranian regime,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said this week.

“The findings in this report are very troubling, not only from an oversight perspective for us as members of Congress, but for anyone who believes that the laws of the land are indeed meant to be followed and that no one is above these laws,” the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa said.

“And they’re also disturbing because of what they tell us about the lengths that the administration will go to, to appease the Iranian regime in its misguided and dangerous quest to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, and forge some sort of legacy for President Obama.”

Ros-Lehtinen was chairing a hearing Wednesday examining the State Department’s non-compliance with the reporting requirements of the 2006 Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA).

A GAO investigation, made public on Wednesday, found that the reports to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees, required by law every six months, had instead been provided at intervals ranging from seven to 22 months, with an average of 16 months.

The most recent report, which covered proliferation-related transfers that took place in 2011, was submitted last December, 22 months after the previous one – “the longest interval between reports since the beginning of 2006.”

Over those 22 months since the March 2013 report, negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – produced an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear programs, in Nov. 2013, laying the groundwork for negotiations for a comprehensive final agreement.

Ros-Lehtinen does not believe the two issues are unrelated.

“We received the report in December 2014, and it sat on the desk for over a year,” she said in a statement. “In November 2013, President Obama announced that the P5+1 had reached an agreement with Iran and were ready to implement the Joint Plan of Action while they continued to pursue a final agreement.”

“If we connect the dots here, the administration had actionable intelligence – and a legal obligation, let’s not forget that – to sign off on the report and sanction these individuals. But the administration sat on this and did not file the report and sanction these individuals.”

INKSNA requires six-monthly reporting of certain weapons of mass destruction and missile-related transfers to or from the three targeted rogue states. It authorizes the president to impose sanctions on foreigners identified in the reports. And if that action is not taken, the president is required to explain, in writing to the committees, the reasons why.

The president delegated the authority to the State Department, where the deputy secretary determines whether or not to impose sanctions.

“State officials told us that a variety of political concerns, such as international negotiations and relations with countries involved in transfers, can delay State’s INKSNA process,” GAO said. “They stated that these concerns can particularly delay the steps that involve internal State approvals, including the deputy secretary’s review and sanctions determination.”

Thomas Melito, director of the GAO’s international affairs and trade team, presented a summary of the report at the hearing.  

Ros-Lehtinen asked him about the report’s reference to political concerns such as international negotiations.

“Did the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 factor in the decision to delay the latest report?” she asked. “What were you told?”

“We can’t actually comment in a public setting on that,” Melito replied.

“We are able to talk about the process in a public setting. But when you get into discussions of countries and individual cases it actually goes to a very high level of classification very quickly.”

‘Resistant’

Ros-Lehtinen also asked Melito about the level of State Department access provided to the GAO, specifically whether it had access to the office of the deputy secretary, where INKSNA sanctions determinations are made; or to the principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy, who deals with Iran sanctions generally.

Melito replied that the team had “highly functional” access to the department’s international security and nonproliferation bureau.

“We did realize, given the nature of what we were finding, that there was need to engage higher level officials,” he said. But although GAO requested a meeting with the offices of the deputy secretary and sanctions policy coordinator, “we were not granted that meeting.”

In its report GAO found that, as the department focuses each report on a group of transfers that occurred during a given calendar year, a single problematic case could hold up reporting on the entire group.

“Why wouldn’t State simply remove the problematic cases, allow the other ones to be processed through?” Ros-Lehtinen wondered, asking Melito whether GAO had suggested such a “workaround” for the department.

He said GAO had done so, but found the department to be “quite resistant.”

“They’ve had this process for probably ten years and they seem to think it works and it’s very efficient.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday there no was disputing the fact that the next INKSNA report, due this month, is late.

“Also no disputing the fact that we’re working very diligently on that,” he told a daily briefing. “I don’t have a calendar to give you in terms of the timing of it.”

During the report’s preparation, State Department officials responded to a draft by saying that it “does not take into account the inherent difficulties of meeting the law’s very tight

deadlines and the substantial increases in scope of reportable activity,” GAO said.

INKSNA was built on earlier legislation: The 2000 Iran Nonproliferation Act was amended in 2005 to include Syria, and the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act was amended in 2006 to incorporate North Korea.

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