Move over, Mr. President -- Congress wants a say on pipeline sanctions
Who makes American foreign policy? That's what the Soviet Union, Europe, and the rest of the world are asking following the House Foreign Affairs Committee vote, 22 to 12, to overrule President Reagan's sanctions against the Soviet natural gas pipeline.
In one of his strongest foreign policy actions yet, and to the dismay of some Western allies, President Reagan in essence told Soviet Union, ''No US aid for your 3,600-mile pipeline to carry gas from Siberia to Western Europe.'' The policy was imposed in December to protest Soviet-backed crackdown in Poland, and the embargo was extended to include technology produced under US license and US subsidiaries overseas.
Now comes the overwhelming House committee vote against the President's policy. The revolt is led by a fellow Republican, Rep. Paul Findley of Illinois, and supporting him in the committee are six Republicans and 15 Democrats. The majority acted in spite of a strong letter by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, saying legislation to repeal Mr. Reagan's sanctions ''would severely cripple the President's ability to pursue one of his major foreign policy goals, and limit his flexibility and authority to deal with a crisis of major importance to the West.''
The House committee in effect is offering its own foreign policy. Unlike parliamentary countries, the Constitution does not make clear exactly who's in charge. There is good possibility that the substantial House committee majority will be upheld later by the Democratic-controlled House. After that, nobody can guess the fate of the policy resolution. If the Republican-controlled Senate goes along with the lower chamber, the President may veto the resolution when it finally comes to him. Or he could decide that European allies were right and that the American embargo won't work.
The question of who sets US foreign policy has caused debate for 200 years: back in the 1920s the isolationist Senate wouldn't ratify the Wilson peace treaty. More recently the Senate failed to ratify SALT II.
President Reagan's attempt to extend the pipeline sanctions to US subsidiaries overseas has angered America's allies. Governments of Italy, France , and Britain have told domestic companies to complete pipeline contracts with Moscow despite Washington. The European Common Market Aug. 11 sent a sharply worded message to the US, calling the sanctions ''unacceptable under international law.'' Mr. Reagan presumably can fine companies violating the Export Administration Act or blacklist them from US markets.
Congress is uncertain on sanctions. Rep. Edward J. Derwinski (R) of Illinois called the committee's vote ''a deliberate slap in the face'' for the President. In the Senate, Maryland's Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R) has held hearings, but no decision has been made on proposed repeal legislation.