President Clinton vetoed legislation on Iranian sanctions Tuesday, saying it would damage the national interest.
The legislation would have automatically imposed sanctions on any foreign government or business that supplied ballistic missile technology to Iran.
The veto of the Iran Missile Proliferation Act came less than a week after Clinton expressed hope for "a genuine reconciliation with Iran" if it complied with international standards of conduct and moves away from its support of terrorism and distribution of dangerous weapons. The administration already has eased travel to the United States for Iranians and is supporting cultural and academic exchanges.
Under the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions Act, the president may impose sanctions on foreign companies that invest at least $20 million annually in Iran's oil and gas sectors.
The vetoed bill would have required "sweeping application of sanctions according to inflexible and indiscriminate criteria," Clinton said in a statement. Sanctions could be wrongly triggered against individuals and businesses worldwide and would be disproportionate, penalizing minor violations the same as major ones, he said.
But Clinton said he was particularly concerned about the bill's impact on the U.S. effort to work with Russia to stem the flow of technology from Russia to Iran's missile program, a "very real problem" that the administration has given priority attention over the past year and a half, he said.
Russia recently adopted new legal and administrative measures to deal with the problem and its progress must be encouraged, not undercut, he said, and the bill would have made it more difficult for the United States to work with Russia in this area. Imposition of unilateral U.S. sanctions, could damage work with Russia in other areas, he said, such as arms control, law enforcement, counter-narcotics and combating transnational crime.
Some members of Congress said they would push to override the veto, citing concern over moves by Russia and China to supply Iran with missile technology.
"This proliferation cannot and must not be ignored. It is a direct threat to peace in the Middle East," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "This carefully crafted legislation will strengthen the president's hand in dealing with proliferators."
House International Relations Chairman Ben Gilman, R-N.Y., asked GOP leaders to immediately schedule an override vote, saying the veto is "deeply distressing" in light of the assistance Iran has gotten from Russia on missile production.
"This legislation gives Russian organizations that are in a position to sell missile technology to Iran compelling reasons not to do so, by forcing them to choose between short-term profits from dealing with Iran and potentially far more lucrative long-term economic relations with the United States," Gilman said.
White House Press Secetary Mike McCurry said earlier that Clinton felt Congress was trying to "micromanage" U.S. foreign policy and put "hopeless shackles on the presidency" with the legislation. McCurry said Clinton would continue to work with Russia on U.S. concerns about the proliferation of missile technology.
By Sonya Ross
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