U.S. Ability to Re-impose Sanctions on Iran Fading Quickly

David Grantham
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Posted: Jan 22, 2016 12:01 AM
U.S. Ability to Re-impose Sanctions on Iran Fading Quickly

President Obama called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the so-called nuclear deal with Iran a “victory” for U.S. and international security.  Indeed, the actual text says that “full implementation…will positively contribute to regional and international peace.”  Iran has since deployed its military assets to Syria, built up forces along Israel’s border, twice test-fired a ballistic missile, and even unilaterally amended the agreement to loosen its own compliance requirements. 

The United States can expect more of this provocative behavior because a hesitant, Iran-friendly executive branch has shown little interest in exercising its self-declared authority to reinstitute sanctions.  Walk light and carry a small stick, it seems.  House Representative Steven Russell (R-OK.), however, recently introduced the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act, which returns disciplinary authority to Congress and raises the standard of acceptable behavior for Iran.  But, time is of the essence because Iran’s plans to ingrain itself in the global economy will make reintroducing sanctions a diplomatic impossibility.

The young revolutionaries that helped depose the Shah and take the U.S. Embassy in 1979 have or now hold leadership positions in the Iranian government.  They witnessed early on the problems with self-imposed, international isolation and have since worked hard at balancing sovereignty and religious purification with economic expansion.  And, with sanctions lifted, Iran is working feverishly to create a system of international financial dependence as a hedge against future sanctions.

The U.S. government is already wary of targeting Iran’s oil operations because of the impact to world markets.  Iran hopes this fear will take hold on a grander scale.

Evidence suggests that Iran aims to become a source of dependence for other countries and embed itself so deeply into the international market that sanctions would cripple more than just Iran.  For example, India has built refineries specifically designed to convert Iranian crude.  The two countries also signed an agreement in May 2015 to construct container and cargo terminals in the southeastern Iranian city ofChah bahar.  Meanwhile, China remains the primary customer of Iranian oil and Iran receives China’s help in rebuilding and modernizing its infrastructure in return. 

China also offers Iran inroads into other markets.  For instance, the Asian juggernaut has agreed to fund a pipeline that will send 3,000 megawatts from the Iran into Pakistan.  The country desperately needs energy and such an arrangement will foster greater reliance on Iran.  Similar relationships with other developing countries will add to Iran’s financial web of co-dependence.

The Islamic Republic has also become one of Russia’s best military customers.  Deals are in the works for the Bear’s most advanced weaponry, including S-300 missile systems, T-90 tanks, and Su-30MK fighter aircraft. 

This reciprocity and economic interconnectedness gives Iran a formidable pool of allies from which to leverage support against any future U.S. action.  It guarantees Iran a greater piece of the world financial system and paves the way for economic cooperation with those who share an interest in a weakened America.  In short order, these market linkages will dissuade the U.S. government from taking punitive action against the Islamic Republic if future violations were discovered.

The Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act is a timely bill with some worthwhile elements.  Firstly, it legislates congressional authority wherein “Any rule to amend or otherwise alter a covered regulatory provision regarding sanctions on Iran shall be subject to congressional review requirements.”  In other words, the bill prevents the executive branch from unilaterally and arbitrarily applying or rescinding sanctions.  The Senate never ratified the JCPOA as a treaty so the current arrangement provides the executive branch nearly unlimited and unwarranted punitive discretion.  As a distinction, the embargo on Cuba was legislated, thereby limiting the president’s individual power to change it.  The bill does something similar, albeit retroactively.  It curbs the excesses of an otherwise emboldened executive branch and limits future administrations who harbor similar ambitions. 

The proposed legislation also holds Iran to a higher standard.  The compliance process would require that Iran certify it is “no longer engaged in support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and any illicit and deceptive financial activities.”  Either suspend these nefarious activities or face penalties.  A clear-eyed resolve strangely absent from the JCPOA. 

Congress should also consider amending the bill to include language that requires the Iranian government to recognize U.S.-Iranian citizenship and add related penalties for holding Americans without justifiable cause.  As it were, Iran does not currently recognize duality.  Such policy allows them to falsely imprison U.S. citizens without fear of consequence.  Worse still, the administration set a dangerous precedent by releasing legitimate criminals for wrongly imprisoned U.S. citizens.  We are elated that most of our countrymen have returned home.  But we would be remiss not to acknowledge how putting the United States in a self-induced position of duress only emboldens this behavior.  Iran’s treatment of American sailors underscores that point. 

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently threatened to breach the deal if Iranian leadership believed the United States or others had already done so.  Iran is already looking for an excuse.  And anyone wanting an excuse will find it.  What a victory indeed, Mr. President.