June 19, 2017 | Policy Brief

Senate Bill Addresses Flaws in Iran Nuclear Deal

June 19, 2017 | Policy Brief

Senate Bill Addresses Flaws in Iran Nuclear Deal

Late last week, the U.S. Senate passed a bill containing new sanctions against Iran. Entitled the “Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017,” the proposed legislation includes measures requiring the U.S. to designate as a terrorist organization the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the chief agent of Tehran’s subversive regional agenda. While the bill must win approval in the House and be signed by the president before becoming public law, its language and 98-2 passage signal a renewed U.S. determination to counter Iran’s non-nuclear threats with non-nuclear sanctions.

 The Senate’s overwhelming bipartisan vote to enforce arms embargos, impede Iran’s ballistic missile development, and impose human rights sanctions is consistent with the Obama administration’s principle that Iran ought to remain subject to new sanctions for misbehavior unrelated to its nuclear program. In practice, however, the desire to protect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal prevented Obama from taking any significant action that carried the risk of antagonizing Tehran.

 Even though it is a departure in practice, the Senate bill remains entirely consistent with the terms of the JCPOA. As Adam Szubin, the former acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, stated last year, “the JCPOA does not affect our non-nuclear sanctions.”

 Not surprisingly, Iranian officials have promised retribution and condemned the Senate’s departure from the previous administration’s conciliatory approach. Nonetheless, the Islamic Republic’s censures were temperate by their own standards, with the exception of some colorful language employed by rank-and-file legislators: One parliamentarian said the sanctions were indicative of the Senate’s “wickedness,” and another promised a “teeth-shattering response.”

 Nonetheless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not overtly discuss the legislation, and merely used the opportunity to deride the U.S. in general terms. Ali-Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy advisor to Khamenei, did call the sanctions “against the spirit and letter of the JCPOA” and threatened an “appropriate response.” So did the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Prior to the bill’s passage, Iran’s foreign minister deemed the measures as proof of Washington’s “short-sightedness.”

 On the contrary, the Senate’s action corrects the nuclear deal’s short-sighted omission of constraints on Tehran’s ballistic missile program, which could provide it with the means to deliver a nuclear weapon. For instance, the bill imposes sanctions on persons and entities that have or intend to support the production or procurement of ballistic missiles for Iran. This arsenal – which the former director of national intelligence judged to be the Middle East’s largest – was unfortunately left out of the nuclear talks. Since agreeing to the accord however, Iran has launched well over a dozen ballistic missiles and adamantly defended its missile program, underscoring the urgency of dealing with this threat.

Nearly two years have passed since the U.S. and the rest of the P5+1 agreed to the JCPOA. But only recently has Washington decided to get tough with Tehran. The Senate action builds on a cascade of human rights and ballistic missile sanctions and designations from the Treasury and State Departments in 2017. But the bill’s most important clause is the call to develop a “strategy for deterring conventional and asymmetric Iranian activities and threats.” Absent this clear strategy, the U.S. will once again be forced to react to Iranian provocations as they arise. This bill appears aimed at changing that dynamic.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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