Legislation containing sanctions against Iraq for its use of poison gas died early Saturday in the final hours of the 100th Congress, victim of a Senate-House power struggle despite overwhelming approval for such measures in both chambers.
Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused two senior House members of scuttling the bill and thwarting the majority sentiment in Congress on the issue.
Pell named no one, but a committee aide said he was referring to Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, when he made his comments in a speech delivered shortly before Congress adjourned at 3:17 a.m. Saturday.
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Pell said, however, that he would continue in the next Congress to seek tough penalties against Iraq for using poison gas against its Kurdish minority in late August unless he is convinced that the Baghdad regime would never do it again and that it would also halt its “cruel policies” against the Kurds.
The Reagan Administration has opposed any sanctions against Iraq on grounds that they would interfere with delicate diplomatic negotiations intended to ensure that the Arab nation forgoes use of all chemical weapons.
Pell protested that the Iraqi sanctions were dropped from a compromise tax bill by Senate and House negotiators even though he had been assured that they would be retained in the final version of the legislation.
He said this was part of an attempt to force the Senate to adopt a series of other foreign policy measures, including a cutoff in military cooperation with New Zealand because of that country’s ban on visiting U.S. warships armed with nuclear weapons. Such a cutoff was unacceptable to some senators.
“The net effect of all this maneuvering has been to kill the Iraq sanctions legislation for this Congress,” Pell said. “I regret deeply the result, but this should not obscure the overwhelming support in both houses for tough action against Iraq.
“This issue will be revisited in the next Congress, and I am confident that, with enough time, the parliamentary roadblocks that derailed this bill can be removed,” he concluded.
Acting at Pell’s urging, the Senate on Sept. 9 passed sweeping sanctions against Iraq by voice vote in the wake of the August gas attack, including a ban on the importing of Iraqi oil and denial of U.S. government loans for buying American farm exports.
The House passed a milder version of sanctions on Sept. 27 by a 388-16 vote. Fascell contended that it would give the President more leverage in negotiating with Iraq to ban the use of poison gas.
A compromise was worked out Oct. 7, and the Senate attached it to the tax bill by a 87-0 vote. It would have banned exports of arms and high-technology equipment to Iraq while requiring the President to impose additional sanctions later. They could include a ban on Iraqi oil imports and denial of U.S. credits for purchases of food.
As Pell put it in his Senate speech, “Unfortunately, special interests got into the act,” with farm organizations objecting to any cutoff of subsidies for exports of food to Iraq and oil companies protesting any American boycott of Iraqi oil.
The Rhode Island Democrat said the compromise bill was not as strong as he would have liked but still sent a message to the Iraqis that “the use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians has a price.”