Steering for a new showdown with President Bush, the Senate on Wednesday passed legislation by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, to punish those who spread chemical arms technology.
Bush vetoed a similar bill last year after Congress adjourned, even though Garn sent him a letter supporting it signed by more than two thirds of the Senate - enough to have overridden the veto if Congress had been in session.Garn's bill would impose U.S. trade sanctions for at least a year against foreign companies that knowingly help spread chemical arms and have not been punished by their own governments, and against countries that use chemical weapons. Bush has said that would tie his hands too much on foreign policy.
Because the bill passed Congress last year, Garn was able to bring the export-control bill directly to the Senate floor for quick action and bypass the normally required review by committee. It passed by a voice vote Wednesday night.
Garn said earlier this month when he re-introduced the bill that the threatened use of chemical arms by Iraq - a capability it developed with the help of foreign companies - shows why his bill is needed.
"The barrage of frightening images we see daily on our television news screens of people scurrying for cover and donning gas masks for protection from these lethal, inhumane weapons should be reason enough for enacting this kind of legislation," Garn said.
Garn noted that the president may waive mandatory trade sanctions against offending companies and countries after a year if he feels it is in the interest of national security.
He added, "While the president feels mandatory sanctions would tie his hands and be unsavory for diplomatic relations, our track record with discretionary sanctions has proven ineffective."
Garn said, "This bill is critical in responding to the dangerous proliferation of chemical weapons throughout the world. A company assisting chemical weapons proliferation, or a country like Iraq that uses chemical weapons, should never be allowed to escape punishment."
Besides chemical weapons sanctions, Garn's bill would also make it easier to export some high technology to Eastern Europe. "These new rules for technology transfer take into consideration the new fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe and allow U.S. exporters to transfer the basic technologies these countries need in order to further their development," Garn said.
The Senate also added several new provisions to the bill as amendments on Wednesday, including giving the president the right to sever relations with companies that break the United Nations embargo against Iraq, and imposing the death penalty on terrorists who kill Americans in the United States or abroad.
The measure now goes to the House where Garn hopes for quick action. Meanwhile, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee was to hold a hearing Thursday on how American and foreign companies helped Iraq amass its illegal weapons capability.