WASHINGTON -- President Clinton yesterday signed a law allowing the United States to retaliate against foreign companies doing business in Iran and or Libya, nations he described as "two of the most dangerous supporters of terrorism in the world."
The step was protested vigorously by America's European allies, especially France, which vowed economic retaliation against the United States. But the president and other U.S. officials were uncompromising -- and predicted the Europeans would come around in time.
"We need to convince the European governments that it's their fight too -- that we can't always fight their battles for them and allow them to reap the economic benefits," said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.
President Clinton was just as blunt, and the images he invoked were even more evocative.
"You cannot do business with countries that practice commerce with you by day while funding and protecting the terrorists who kill you and your innocent civilians by night," Clinton said.
The president's remarks came at George Washington University in a foreign policy address devoted mostly to terrorism. Clinton called terrorism "the enemy of our generation."
"This will be a long, hard struggle," he said. "There will be setbacks along the way. But just as no enemy could drive us from the fight to meet our challenges and protect our values in World War II and the Cold War, we will not be driven from the tough fight against terrorism today. Terrorism is the enemy of our generation, and we must prevail."
European reactions expressed doubts that the new measures would be effective deterrents against violence, and criticized them as unacceptable interference in their own affairs.
"It establishes the unwelcome principle that one country can dictate the foreign policy of others," said Sir Leon Brittan, trade commissioner for the European Union. EU nations import about 20 percent of their petroleum from Iran and Libya, and have long opposed U.S. attempts to impose embargoes.
Germany "shares the U.S. government's concern regarding the spread of terrorism," said German Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt. "But threatening extra-territorial sanctions against European companies that invest a certain amount in these countries is the wrong way."
The EU is already chafing under the provisions of a similar U.S. law -- one they find even harder to take -- that penalizes foreign companies dealing with Cuba.
The president said the administration would have three goals: Giving the FBI broad new powers to investigate people suspected of terrorism. Among the enhanced law enforcement tools the administration wants are chemical "taggants" placed in explosives to make them easier to trace, expanded wire-tapping authority for the FBI and faster procedures for extraditing people suspected of terrorism and drug dealers. The administration is also seeking legislation permitting the FBI to investigate acts of violence against Americans abroad.
Increasing airport and airplane security through enhanced inspections of airplanes. That would require the use of costly new X-ray equipment for baggage and much closer searches of passengers, airline personnel and others who have access to airports.
Isolating rogue nations that sponsor, harbor or finance terrorism. Usually, the president said, other nations have been cooperative. But he said the United States is prepared to act on its own.
An example of unilateral U.S. action is a measure recently passed by Congress calling for harsh sanctions on foreign companies that invest at least $40 million in oil or gas exploration projects in Iran or Libya, or that violate existing prohibitions against doing business in Libya.
The penalties include denial of Export-Import Bank financing, prohibition on loans or credits from U.S. financial institutions and a ban on some or all imports from the violating company.
Pub Date: 8/06/96