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Congress takes deeper look at enforcing sanctions

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Chairman Ed Royce Photo:{ } House Foreign Affairs Committee YouTube

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Members of the House Foreign Affair Committee met Wednesday to discuss the enforcement of United States sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions safeguarding the U.S. against foreign countries, regimes, terrorists and other entities engaged in malicious activity.

The hearing focused primarily on sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran. Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R- Calif., said that the committee would use Wednesday’s hearing to explore if sanctions enacted by Congress have been fully implemented to the best of their ability.

“We’ve used America’s economic might to help stop terrorists, counter Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, and respond to Russian aggression and the degradation of democracy in Venezuela,” Royce said. “No matter how tough the language of our sanctions bills, they are only as strong as their enforcement. That’s why we must work together to ensure the Executive Branch not only has the political will, but also the growing resources and expertise needed to implement strong sanctions.”

The chairman brought to the committee’s attention the fast-approaching deadline for the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The legislation imposed sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran. Royce said the committee expects key elements of the act to be met by the end of January 2018.

In Royce’s opening remarks, he referenced the protests in Iran.

“The committee is also working on a bill designed to help push the Revolutionary Guards out of Iran’s economy and deny them the revenue they use to destabilize Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – all while continuing to threaten Israel,” Royce said. “This is the abuse and corruption and expensive interference in neighboring countries that brave Iranians have taken to the streets to protest.”

He also expressed his concern regarding increased tensions with North Korea.

“When it comes to the threat from North Korea, I’ve called for the ‘primary money laundering concern’ designation against large Chinese banks that continue to do business with the Kim Jong Un regime,” Royce remarked. “We must stop Kim Jong Un from building a reliable nuclear arsenal capable of striking the United States.”

The Committee’s Ranking Member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., called out President Donald Trump for his recent tweets about North Korea -- particular, his assertion that he has a larger nuclear button than leader Kim Jong Un.

“I fear that the administration is making things worse the president’s comments on North Korea have been inflammatory most recently with the president button measuring contest on Twitter,” Engel said. “These actions increase the risk of miscalculation and when we are talking about nuclear weapons, on the Korean peninsula or anywhere else there is really no margin for error.”

Engel said he believes that China is key in helping to enforce sanctions in North Korea.

“China is key to enforcement but China is prone to cheating and at the same time, the United States has been reluctant to sanction big Chinese financial institutions," Engel said. “Even if there were universal enforcement of sanctions around the world, there is little to believe sanctions alone particular in the short term would push Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.”

Former Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, U.S. Department of the Treasury and Chairman and the current Co-Founder of Financial Integrity Network Juan C. Zarate was a witness during Wednesday’s hearing.

“Any attempt to use sanctions or financial measures of any sort must nest within a coherent strategy and cannot stand alone,” Zarate said. “For a financial pressure campaign to work, it must be applied and enforced constantly to identify and isolate the targeted behavior. It is like weeding a garden -- it has to be done consistently to shape the environment.”

Zarate said with Russia, it is important for the United States to retain escalatory dominance along with its European allies.

“With sanctions and measures against a major G-20 economy we have to be conscious of the measures that Russia takes to encounters in defense of these measures,” Zarate said. “We then have to deal with Russian aggression in Ukraine, Putin’s corruption, support for Assad’s regime in Syria, related human rights abuses and of course malicious cyber activity.”

Former Special Agent in Charge, Special Operations Division, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Department of Justice and Executive Director of Governmental Relations for Pen-Link, Ltd, Derek Maltz said success with sanctions depends on lawmakers putting partisan politics aside.

“I really don’t believe it is productive to start playing the blame game and wasting time going back and forth criticizing the past administrations. We have to be more effective in the future,” Maltz said. “The threats in the country are moving at lightning speed. And we need more of a need of a sense of urgency.”

Maltz said that the “political ping pong” needs to stop, and greater efforts to promote information sharing among U.S. department and agencies should become more commonplace.

“We need the AG [Attorney General], the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] secretary, the DOD [Department of Defense] leaders and the intelligence community committees to step up and tell people what they are going to do and what they are expected to do for the public,” Maltz said. “Let’s make a commitment to the taxpayers that we are going to eliminate these barriers.”

Former Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, U.S. Department of the Treasury and current Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Adam Szubin, asked Congress to help the staff at Treasury charged with working on sanctions.

“Even after some growth, the Treasury team that works on sanctions has fewer than 500 people. This includes the intelligence, regulatory, licensing, targeting, compliance, enforcement, legal, and policy teams, and they administer every sanctions program from al-Qaida to Zimbabwe,” Szubin said. “ The teams at Treasury are among the most dedicated I have seen in government, but if we want them to continue to deliver highly professional and impactful results, Congress must equip them to succeed.”

Szubin also called for greater clarity between sanctions established by individual states and those established by the federal government.

“More than 30 states have passed Iran-related sanctions laws that differ from federal law, implicating Iran, Burma [Myanmar], Syria, Sudan. The state seeks to alter the behavior of foreign governments but they are not subject to any congressional oversight,” Szubin said. “And State legislators target not Iranian or Sudanese companies but European South Asian companies that are doing business in sanctioned countries -- business I might add is fully legal under their home laws and under U.S. federal law.”