Congress should maintain as many sanctions on Iran as possible. Even if Congress falls short of blocking US President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, the arrangement raises serious questions and doubts that the Obama administration and Congress must address.
What, in particular, will become of the non-nuclear related American and European sanctions regimes against Iranians supporting terrorism and human rights violations? The right choice is for Congress to codify those sanctions in place immediately, to ensure that there is no room for debate about terrorism and tyranny, Frederick Kagan wrote in The Hill on Thursday, September 2nd..
The moral underpinnings of the Iran deal — the reason the president argues it is not a capitulation to Iran — are found in the notion that there is nuclear roll-back; but just as importantly, the president argues, there are no concessions on the other areas in which Iran behaves as a rogue nation. But is that truly so? Treasury Department officials have testified that those sanctions will remain, but if the executive branch has its way, nothing will be clear until Treasury releases new guidelines this fall.
Acting Treasury Undersecretary Adam Szubin recently testified that “more than 225 Iran-linked persons will remain designated and subject to sanctions” under the JCPOA, adding, “It is worth emphasizing that our sanctions authorities will continue to affect foreign financial institutions that transact with these more than 200 Iranian persons on our Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN), as well as persons who provide material or other types of support to Iranian SDNs.” It is less clear that the Iranians see things in this way, since President Hassan Rouhanicontinues to repeat that “after the agreement is implemented, the economic sanctions will be immediately removed, meaning financial, banking, insurance, transportation, petrochemical sanctions; all economic sanctions will be removed.”
This disagreement over the agreement is a serious matter. The Iranian companies affected include the National Iranian Oil Company; the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ massive industrial conglomerate, Khatam ol Anbiya Construction Headquarters; the Guards’ own “charitable foundation,” Bonyad-e Taavon-e Sepah, which manages a large portfolio of investments; several large banks including Mehr Bank, Bank Sepah, and Bank Saderat, as well as the very significant Bank Melli; and a number of airline companies including Mahan Air and Tehran’s flag carrier, Iran Air. Under current statute, all of these companies apart from Iran Air are also subject to secondary sanctions — sanctions on companies that do business with them.
American strategists, regional partners, and European businessmen need clarity on this question. And while the administration might be loath to provide it, fearing Iran will torpedo the agreement, Congress can provide it. The Critical Threats Project at AEI has scrutinized the U.S. and E.U. sanctions lists and identified more than 50 organizations and 120 individuals that have been designated as supporters of the IRGC, Qods Force, the Assad regime, or for egregious violations of the human rights of Iranians and Syrians. Before voting on whether or not to approve the Iran Deal itself, Congress should consider first ensuring that all of these individuals and entities and any others that are already so designated will remain subject to both primary and secondary sanctions for the duration of the nuclear agreement (ten years).
Supporters of the agreement will no doubt label this suggestion a back-door effort to kill the deal. But it is nothing of the sort if the administration’s protestations are to be believed. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew testified not only that all of these sanctions will remain in place and will be enforced, but also that the Iranians and the Europeans know that they will. Very well. Now is the time to codify that understanding.
Why? The immediate purpose of codifying clearly which individuals and entities are subject to non-nuclear sanctions would be to prevent a U.S. president from simply un-designating them for political reasons, thereby effectively lifting sanctions against these individuals and organizations. But the broader purpose of such an effort is to put muscle into Obama’s stated hope that the opening of the Iranian economy to the world will effectively cause the regime to change its nature over time…whether it wants to or not.
The sanctions under discussion are those that would make it most difficult for the IRGC, Qods Force, other security forces, and their patronage networks to benefit from the influx of cash and goods that will result from the easing of restrictions. Rigorously enforcing them through both primary and secondary sanctions offers the best hope of creating the market dynamics in Iran that could, conceivably, put meaningful positive pressure on the regime over the long term.
The idea that lifting sanctions will cause the nature of the Iranian regime to change is a very long shot, indeed. But in the good cop/bad cop game that the president appears to be playing, it is only prudent to ensure that while the nuclear sanctions are lifted, others remain firmly in place. At the very least, it ensures that the most malign Iranian people and organizations that have done so much harm to Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis, and, of course, Americans remain in our crosshairs for the foreseeable future.
Kagan is the director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.