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U.S. lawmakers seek repeal of Iran sanctions unless Jews freed

By Amy Strahan

Bloomberg News, July 17, Washington -- Two Democrats in the U.S. House said they will push to reverse a Clinton administration decision to ease trade sanctions on Iran's reformist government unless Tehran releases 10 Jews convicted of spying for the U.S. and Israel.

Representative Bradley Sherman of California told a rally near the White House that he will introduce legislation in few days to stop the import of fruit, rugs, pistachios and caviar from Iran. Representative Robert Wexler of Florida, Sherman's colleague on the House International Relations Committee, said he will back the move.

The Clinton action to drop the ban on some goods as a gesture to Iran's reformers "was a unilateral concession -- a gift to the Iranian government -- and there has been no reciprocity," Sherman told about 200 members of the Jewish community and other political activists.

Sherman called the spy trials in Iran "show trials that would have embarrassed Joseph Stalin."

Jewish community leaders said they want to keep the issue on the front-burner of U.S. foreign policy in hopes that U.S. leaders will encourage other nations abroad to exert similar economic pressure on the Iranian government.

"We really have to keep pressure up from the European countries, (because) they've already been very effective in getting Iran to listen," said David Bernstein, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee. "Iran is susceptible to this kind of pressure."

Spy Trial

The U.S. Jewish community is outraged over the July 1 sentencing of the 10 Jews and two Muslims by a court in the Iranian city of Shiraz, where the judge also served as prosecutor and observers weren't allowed access to the courtroom. The convicted Jews -- mostly teachers and merchants -- were sentenced to an average of 13 years each in prison.

Sherman called the spy charges against the 10 absurd, since Iranian law prevents Jews from going near military or other sites of strategic significance.

"If this is how Iran treats the opening of our market to their pistachios and caviar, then it's time we close them down," Sherman said.

In March, the Clinton administration lifted some trade sanctions against Iran as a goodwill gesture to a newly elected reform government, allowing imports of fruits, nuts, caviar and carpets from Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also promised the U.S. would work toward a "global settlement" of outstanding legal claims each country has against the other.

Unresolved Iranian financial claims against the U.S. total between $2 billion and $5 billion, dating back mostly to contracts signed before 1979, according to Robert Pelletreau, a former top U.S. policy-maker for the Middle East. U.S. claims against Iran are far smaller, mostly relating to the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by student militants.

Relations between Iran and the U.S. broke off after the students seized the embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Iran remains on the U.S. list of countries it says sponsor terrorism. That finding means, among other things, that the U.S. doesn't support renewed World Bank lending to Iran and won't allow U.S. companies access to Iran's market or its oil reserves.

Of Iran's 65 million people, about 20,000 to 30,000 are Jews, according to the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington.


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