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WASHINGTON (AP) — Ban investment in Cuba, even as foreign competitors scoop up big contracts. Punish foreign companies that do business with Iran and Libya. Cut foreign aid from countries to cover their unpaid New York City parking tickets.

Some members of Congress, while supporting multilateral economic sanctions, say slapping unilateral sanctions on countries has gotten out of hand, especially since these punishments often wind up hurting U.S. farmers and manufacturers while failing to change a foreign country’s behavior.

“Almost all sanctions are ineffective,” said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Sanctions have been imposed as an inexpensive foreign policy.”

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., likened them to “a modern-day gunboat diplomacy” without guns or boats. “We don’t like what you’re doing, so we’re going to put on a trade sanction or an embargo.”

But some lawmakers defend them with vigor, demonstrated by overwhelming votes last month by a House committee to renew sanctions against Iran and Libya for five more years.

Unilateral U.S. economic sanctions target more than 75 of the world’s nearly 200 countries, says USA Engage, a coalition of business and farming interests that oppose such sanctions. The coalition was formed in response to a burst of 26 new sanctions in 1996, many imposed by the new Republican majorities in Congress. There are about 100 separate sanctions, according to USA Engage figures.

The sanctions were prompted by such diverse concerns as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, whaling and fishing practices, intellectual property and labor rights, religious discrimination and human rights abuse.

Some targeted countries are obvious candidates: Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen.

Others are not so obvious: Canada, Italy, Japan and Taiwan.

Although no new sanctions were imposed last year, critics of the system, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, want an overhaul.

“I don’t know of any embargo that’s ever been successful other than making people who put the embargo in place feel better,” said Roberts, who is still rankled by President Carter’s 1980 grain embargo against the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan.

“Not one Russian troop ever left Afghanistan, and the effect of the embargo was like shattered glass on the American agricultural economy,” Roberts said. “It took us a decade to get over that.”

Lugar hopes to pass a bill that, among other things, would require any future sanction to have:

A clear rationale provided by the president or Congress, whoever is seeking it.

A sunset date so the government must take action to continue it, eliminating perpetual sanctions that outlive the reason they were instituted.

A cost-benefit analysis to ensure it’s worthwhile.

Lugar and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., say the bill should be broad to avoid political tripwires that accompany any attempt to adjust sanctions on a single country such as Cuba.

But they won’t tilt again at the sanctions windmill unless the Bush administration will push the bill, since previous efforts failed for lack of cheerleading by the Clinton administration.

Powell has already implored lawmakers not to create new sanctions. His department is assessing what sanctions changes are needed.

The House International Relations Committee recently rebuffed Powell’s plea to renew sanctions against Iran and Libya for just two years, instead of five, to give him more leeway. The 34-9 vote against the two-year limit was preceded by emotional debate.

America’s “arrogant, authoritarian approach … encourages and stimulates the radicalism that we find around the world, because they feel like we have no openness to their position,” contended Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, pushing the two-year limit.

“Is it arrogant to sanction Timothy McVeigh?” Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., cried out. “Should we have had a dialogue with him? He killed 170 people. (Libyan leader Moammar) Gadhafi killed 270 people!” on Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The five-year sanction renewal was approved 41-3.


on the webUSA Engage

sanctions, said Dan O’Flaherty of USA Engage, rely on “the belief that the United States has the economic leverage to change other countries’ policies without going to war, without costing us very much,” but “there is virtually nothing that a country like Iran needs that it can’t get from our competitors.”

Incremental changes in sanctions have already begun, as many rock-ribbed Republicans chip away at the once sacrosanct Cuban embargo.

Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., sponsor of last year’s successful bill allowing sales of U.S. agricultural products and medicines to Cuba, said he was surprised to find himself fighting the embargo, but did so to help American farmers.

Multilateral sanctions are another approach, but can require hard-to-negotiate agreements, as the U.N. Security Council found regarding Iraq. For example, a Russian veto threat prevented reworking of U.N. sanctions against Iraq on Tuesday.

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