March 29, 2017 | Policy Brief

Congress Ups Ante with New Iran Sanctions

March 29, 2017 | Policy Brief

Congress Ups Ante with New Iran Sanctions

House and Senate lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would increase sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile tests and other malign behavior. The two bills, which remain consistent with U.S. obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, represent a bipartisan effort to advance an objective that both President Trump and President Obama have endorsed: deterring Tehran’s non-nuclear aggression in the region.

The legislation comes as the Trump administration works to devise a new strategy toward an increasingly emboldened Iranian regime. Since the accord’s finalization, Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has fueled regional instability by bolstering support for proxies throughout the Middle East. In defiance of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231, Tehran has tested ballistic missiles more than a dozen times and pursued a lucrative arms agreement with Russia. Meanwhile, its human rights abuses persist.

The Senate bill, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act (S. 722), seeks to confront these developments by requiring the president to impose sanctions on any person who materially contributes either to Tehran’s ballistic missile development or to the supply, sale, or transfer of arms to or from the country. Similarly, it mandates sanctions against any person, as well as the financiers of any person, who provides financial, material, technological, or other support to such a contributor.

The legislation – introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and a dozen other senators, including six Republicans and six Democrats – mandates sanctions on the IRGC in its entirety pursuant to Executive Order 13224, signed by President George W. Bush days after the 9/11 attacks, which allows the executive branch to freeze the assets of individuals or groups that carry out terrorist acts or are at risk of doing so. The bill also obligates the secretary of state to provide an annual list of key Iranian human rights abusers, and authorizes the president to impose sanctions on them.

Finally, the legislation requires the executive to submit reports that provide a regional strategy for addressing Iran’s conventional and asymmetric military capabilities, explain any discrepancies between U.S. and European Union sanctions lists, summarize U.S. efforts to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran, and document Tehran’s ballistic missile development.

The House legislation, the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 1698), maintains a more narrow focus than the Senate bill, imposing sanctions exclusively on individuals or entities that defy UNSCR 2231’s arms embargo and ballistic missile prohibition. Spearheaded by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the legislation also obligates the executive to submit regular reports documenting any Iranian failures to fulfill its UN obligations.

The House bill goes further than its Senate counterpart, though, by requiring the president to produce a report analyzing the Iranian ballistic missile program’s domestic and global supply chain. In so doing, the legislation lays the groundwork for more comprehensive sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile development.

Still, taken together, the two bills reflect a bipartisan recognition that U.S. policy has failed to deter Iran’s non-nuclear misbehavior since the nuclear deal. While the Obama administration pledged that it would increase non-nuclear sanctions on the Islamic Republic, it remained largely passive in practice, fearing that any meaningful new penalties would spur the regime to abandon the agreement. Ever since the deal was struck, Tehran has claimed it would regard any new sanctions as a violation of the accord that would release it from its commitments.

Iran has likely threatened to withdraw from the deal merely to deter a robust U.S. response to its regional aggression. After all, such a move would deprive the country of billions in international sanctions relief at a time when its economy, though improved since the agreement, remains fragile. In this context, the new legislation marks a belated attempt to restore U.S. deterrence and call Tehran’s bluff.

Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.


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