Meddling with the Mullahs: An Analysis of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996

Article excerpt

"As the dominant power, [the United States] can afford to add the legitimizing carrot of negotiations to the punitive stick of sanctions."(1)


On August 5, 1996, President William J. Clinton signed the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 into law.(2) This statute, dubbed by some as the D'Amato-Kennedy Act after its two chief legislative sponsors,(3) was introduced in the United States (U.S.) Senate as Senate Bill 1228 on September 8, 1995 and in the U.S. House of Representatives as House Bill 3107 on March 19, 1996.(4) The bill received little attention until the summer of 1996 when two events combined to bring its enactment to fruition. On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb was detonated outside of Khobar Towers, a U.S. military housing compound located near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, resulting in the death of nineteen American servicemen.(5) One month later, on July 17, 1996, Trans-World Airlines Flight 800 inexplicably exploded in mid-air and crashed off the coast of Long Island, New York resulting in the loss of 230 lives.(6) In the atmosphere of outrage and panic over the perceived threat of international terrorism stirred by these incidents, the bill was quickly passed by the Senate on July 16, 1996 and the House of Representatives on July 23, 1996.(7) In response to the national outcry for retaliatory action - and perhaps not wishing to appear weak on the issue of international terrorism in an election year - President Clinton endorsed its provisions two weeks later.(8) The U.S. trade embargo against Iran escalated to a new level at the stroke of the President's pen.

At its core, the Act has four purposes. Initially, ILSA purports to address the threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives posed by Iranian and Libyan attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and sponsorship of acts of international terrorism.(9) However, the sponsors of ILSA acknowledged that unilateral efforts by the United States were insufficient to adequately address these threats.(10) As a result, ILSA attempts to multilateralize U.S. efforts to isolate Iran. Initially, ILSA urges the President to commence diplomatic efforts through the United Nations and consultation with U.S. allies in order to establish a multilateral sanctions regime against Iran, including provisions limiting the development of its petroleum resources.(11) ILSA also authorizes the imposition of economic sanctions upon persons determined by the President to have made investments in Iran of at least $40 million in any one year that directly contributed to Iran's ability to develop its petroleum resources.(12) Persons subject to sanctions must have actual knowledge or reason to know that their investment would directly contribute to Iran's ability to develop its petroleum resources.(13) The President is required to impose at least two sanctions from a list set forth in ILSA against persons deemed to have violated the investment prohibition.(14) This sanctions regime is designed to discourage foreign investment in Iran's petroleum industry, thereby denying it the financial means to sustain its nuclear, chemical, biological and missile weapons programs and sponsorship of international terrorism.(15) Finally, ILSA purports to place additional pressure upon the Libyan government to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 731, 748, and 883 by demanding the cessation of Libyan sponsorship of international terrorism and efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction,(16) and by demanding the surrender of two Libyan intelligence agents implicated in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21, 1988.(17) Furthermore, all provisions of ILSA applicable to Iran are equally applicable to investments in Libya.(18) The President must report to Congress on a regular basis on his efforts to accomplish the purposes set forth in ILSA.(19)

The Act attempts to accomplish its purposes with three specific methods. …