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Senate votes for new Iran sanctions, defying White House

The penalties are part of a defense bill that already faced a veto threat because of new requirements for holding terrorism suspects.

December 02, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
  • "This is the right amendment at the right time sending the right message in the face of a very irresponsible regime," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Above, Kirk speaking in December 2010 on Capitol Hill.
"This is the right amendment at the right time sending the right message… (Alex Brandon, Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — Disregarding White House opposition, the Senate unanimously approved new sanctions on Iran as part of a defense bill Thursday night — and then passed the legislation, which already faced a veto threat because it would require military custody for certain detainees suspected of terrorism.

The legislation, which includes a 1.6% pay raise for troops, needs to be merged with a House bill that President Obama's advisors have recommended for a veto. The Senate's bill passed, 93 to 7, indicating there would be enough votes to override a veto.

The Iran sanctions were approved despite heated warnings from administration officials that such a move could shake oil prices and jolt the struggling economy.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner expressed the administration's "strong opposition," saying the measure threatened to undermine international efforts to pressure Iran to forego its nuclear ambitions and could fuel them.

Undeterred, senators passed the sanctions, 100 to 0.

"This is the right amendment at the right time sending the right message in the face of a very irresponsible regime," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of the authors.

The measure would prohibit institutions doing business with Iran's financial institutions, including its central bank, from maintaining accounts in the U.S. It would provide a waiver in the case of U.S. national security and would require that studies be done to monitor for oil price increases that could rattle the economy.

Senators expressed frustration that the administration had not moved fast enough to curtail financing of Iran's nuclear activities.

"Given what appears to be a shortening timeline until Iran has a potential nuclear weapon, it would seem that we are not doing enough fast enough," said coauthor Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

The annual defense bill, which sets budget and policy for the Pentagon for the 2012 fiscal year, already faced a veto threat because of the detainee provisions. The administration opposed changing detainee policy that has been in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Civil libertarians warn that the provisions would give the government far-reaching power to patrol U.S. streets and detain U.S. citizens indefinitely.

The Senate rejected an amendment that would have deleted the provisions.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) offered an amendment seeking to ensure that U.S. citizens would not be swept up in military detentions in violation of their rights. The amendment passed, 99 to 1, but it was unclear whether it would satisfy the administration.

Civil libertarians said Feinstein's approach did little to prevent sweeping new military authority, which the American Civil Liberties Union called military detention "on steroids."

If signed into law, "American citizens and others are at real risk of being locked away by the military without charge or trial," the ACLU said in a statement.

The annual defense bill authorizes $662 billion for military programs for fiscal 2012, a reduction from current levels. It includes the pay raise for the troops and sets policy on defense spending and military contracts.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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