State Department Lags on Sanctions Reports to Congress, GAO Says

The U.S. State Department isn’t meeting the legal deadlines to tell Congress which foreigners should be sanctioned for doing business with Iran, Syria and North Korea, a necessary step before penalties can be applied.

The Government Accountability Office found that the State Department has provided just six of the 18 biannual reports required since 2006 under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, or INKSNA. The delays meant the agency didn’t apply sanctions on 2011 violators until December 2014, the report said.

“Prolonged delays in eventually imposing potential INKSNA sanctions could erode the credibility of such threats and INKSNA’s utility as a tool in helping to curb weapons of mass destruction proliferation associated with Iran, Syria and North Korea,” according to the report, published on Wednesday.

The report, made public at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing, comes as negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program near their June 30 deadline, and critics of the U.S.-led effort escalate their attacks on the administration for not being tough enough on Iran.

The new GAO report could hand the critics new ammunition. While the majority of sanctions imposed by the reporting law have hit people in China, Sudan, Iran and Syria, the focus of the sparsely attended hearing of the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee was the Islamic Republic.

“The relationship between Iran and North Korea with respect to illicit procurement is vital for the Iranian regime’s efforts to circumvent international sanctions,” Representative Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, said.

‘Margins of the Law’

Deutch said he’s concerned that the State Department’s delayed reporting “is causing a lag time in the imposition of sanctions.”

Florida Republican Representative Curt Clawson went further, alleging that the State Department was “playing on the margins of the law” to renegotiate “deals they don’t like anymore” and “do what they really want to do with these talks.”

INKSA requires the president to report to Congress every six months, a job he’s delegated to the State Department.

The GAO’s director of International Affairs and Trade, Thomas Melito, told the committee that the State Department has provided the reports at intervals of about 16 months instead of six, with the gaps between reports growing longer over the years.

Cumbersome Reviews

The agency’s process for producing the reports limits its ability to impose sanctions in a timely manner, Melito said. He attributed the delays to a cumbersome interagency review process and a policy of waiting until problems with every individual case are resolved before a report is sent to Congress.

“As a result, a single problematic case can delay State’s provision of a report,” he said in prepared testimony.

Another issue is that the State Department bureau responsible for the work often has to work on several annual reports simultaneously.

Melito told the committee that department officials didn’t think the law needed to be changed, and that he believed the agency could implement a six-month reporting cycle and doesn’t need additional resources to do so.

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