Acting over protests of European allies, President Clinton signed a measure Monday to punish foreign companies that do business with Iran and Libya.
He said the United States has an obligation to act - alone, if necessary - against what he branded “two of the most dangerous supporters of terrorism in the world.”
Clinton, signing the bill in an Oval Office ceremony, was flanked by family members of several victims of the attack on Pan Am Flight 103. The plane was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The administration wants two Libyans suspected of complicity in the bombing to be extradited for trial in the United States.
Later, in a foreign policy address, Clinton recalled recent terrorist attacks against the United States - including the June bombing of a U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia - and dedicated the nation to a “long, hard struggle” against global terror, calling it “the enemy of our generation.”
The bill to punish companies doing business with Iran and Libya is expected to have limited economic impact and little effect on the behavior of those two nations, which have suffered partial Western economic embargoes for years.
But the measure gave Clinton the chance to appear determined to battle terror on all fronts at a time of heightened domestic concern about terrorism after the Olympic park bomb, the unresolved case of TWA Flight 800 and the Saudi attack.
In his George Washington University speech, he cited his signing of the Iran-Libya sanctions bill as the lonely obligation of the United States as the world’s “indispensable nation.” He acknowledged the opposition of Germany, France and other allies which object to what they consider interference in their trade practices.
The European allies share the U.S. belief that Iran and Libya support global terrorist groups with money, arms and training. But the Europeans contend that isolating the regimes is counterproductive; they advocate, instead, a policy of commercial engagement coupled with diplomatic pressure to stem terrorism.
Clinton said the United States disagrees, believing a total quarantine of rogue states is the only answer. “Where we don’t agree, the United States cannot and will not refuse to do what we believe is right. … You cannot do business with countries that practice commerce with you by day while funding or protecting the terrorists who kill you and your innocent civilians by night.”
The measure requires the president to impose sanctions on foreign companies that invest $40 million or more a year in energy enterprises in Iran or Libya. The bill does not affect existing contracts, only new ventures, officials said.
Libya and Iran are on the U.S. State Department list of countries supporting terrorism, and U.S. law bans trade by American companies with both.
Clinton said the measure, sponsored by Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato, R-N.Y., “builds on what we’ve already done to isolate those regimes by imposing tough penalties on foreign companies that go forward with new investments in key sectors. The act will help to deny them the money they need to finance international terrorism or to acquire weapons of mass destruction.”
Germany, with significant trade with Iran, has been one of the most outspoken proponents of engagement with Tehran. Bonn repeatedly has argued that such a policy gets better results than U.S.-style isolation.