What You Need To Know: The Iran Sanctions Act
Now that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program has been implemented, the United States government must grapple with two interrelated issues: assuring that Iran does not violate any part of the agreement and responding to dangerous actions by Iran that are not covered by the JCPOA.
There have been a wide range of bills and resolutions introduced in both the Senate and the House during the current Congressional session to prevent the former and respond to the latter. Most of them have languished, however, because they lack bipartisan support. This installment of What You Need To Know (WYNTK) will look at several pieces of legislation and the issues surrounding their potential implementation.
Iran Sanctions Act
- The Iran Sanctions Act (at the time the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996) was passed in 1996 and extended in 2006.
- The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), adopted in 2010, created a sanctions regime of unprecedented severity to punish Iran. .
- Last June, before the JCPOA was finalized, Senators Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a bill to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (Iran Sanctions Relief Oversight Act of 2015) until 2026; it is set to expire this year.
- Speculation as to why this bill failed to gain traction suggests that it is seen as outdated because it predates the agreement; that it is not sufficiently bipartisan because Menendez is its only Democratic supporter; and that Democrats oppose it because it goes beyond a simple reauthorization of the original Act and imposes additional reporting requirements on the White House.
“Snap-back” sanctions and the Iran Sanctions Act
With the implementation of the JCPOA, UN and EU sanctions were lifted, and US sanctions that pertained specifically to third party transactions involving institutions in foreign countries were suspended. The Obama administration emphasized that the deal would allow for the immediate “snap-back” of sanctions if Iran were found guilty of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons capability.
Opponents of the deal argued that this would be used only for the most drastic cases, while more modest violations could go unpunished. Skeptics of the agreement also contend that the Iran Sanctions Act must be reauthorized if the concept of “snap-back” sanctions are to have any chance of succeeding.
- Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) is leading this effort, which is not garnering much support outside of his Democratic allies in Congress.
- Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, does not plan to support the bill because he, as well as other Senate Republicans, want the bill to go beyond reauthorization to take issue with other elements of the JCPOA. Similar issues plague efforts at bipartisan compromise in the House.
- The Obama administration argues that reauthorization is unnecessary at this time, and that the conversation can be revisited at the end of the year. The White House also previously opposed the Kirk-Menendez attempt to reauthorize bill, citing various other pieces of legislation as more crucial internal infrastructure to support re-imposing sanctions if necessary.
Iran Policy Oversight Act
- Senator Cardin and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also introduced the Iran Policy Oversight Act of 2015, which would augment Congressional oversight of the JCPOA, increase military aid to Israel, and impose new sanctions against Iran that target its support for terrorist activities.
- The bill did not attract any Republican co-sponsorship, in part because it only provides greater oversight rather than amendment or potential dissolution of the agreement.
- The administration also denied recent reports that it would ease restrictions on offshore dollar transactions. This clarification took place after Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced legislation to ban such a practice.
- Two similar bills (H.R. 4898 and S.R. 2757) have also been introduced recently by Republicans.
Ballistic Missiles: Background
Of all of Iran’s activities that the American government considers problematic – domestic human rights abuses, supporting terror and terrorist groups, contributing to destabilizing activities in the region – the issue that has arguably commanded more attention than any other is Iran’s insistence on its right to test ballistic missiles.
- Since the introduction of the JCPOA in July and its implementation in January, Iran has conducted three different sets of missiles tests.
- The first two sets of tests took place before the implementation and were judged by whether or not they violated UN Security Council Resolution 1929.
- In January 2016, the United States government responded by levying new sanctions against eleven institutions and individuals it held responsible for contributing to the import and supply of parts necessary to manufacture the missiles.
- The third set of tests was conducted in March, after the agreement was implemented and sanctions relief for Iran had already begun. This set of tests was accompanied by widespread condemnation from the US and the EU.
- The United States again imposed unilateral sanctions against individuals and entities involved in ballistic missile production, but critics of the government’s actions derided this type of unilateral action as insufficient, and called for a return to a more comprehensive sanctions regime.
For a refresher course on ballistic missiles, click here to access What You Need To Know on Iran’s ballistic missile tests. JCPA also circulated an action alert, urging UN Ambassador Samantha Power to continue to push for renewed sanctions against Iran because of its ballistic missile tests.
Ballistic Missiles and Sponsorship of Terror: Legislation
- A recent bill sponsored by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) would introduce new sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program. The same bill was introduced in the House by Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS).
- The Obama administration is uninterested in return to a rigorous implementation of sanctions in response to Iran’s ballistic missile tests. As long as Iran is complying with what President Obama calls the “letter” of the JCPOA, which does not directly address Iran’s ballistic missile program, the administration is not likely to fully condemn those actions that violate its “spirit.”
- The Obama administration’s reticence about imposing stringent sanctions for Iran’s ballistic missile tests is linked to Iran’s threats, veiled and otherwise, to scuttle the JCPOA if it is pressured to abandon a program that it deems a legitimate part of a its national defense.
- Senator Ayotte’s bill, and another sponsored by Senator Kirk that condemns Iran’s support of terrorist groups such as Hizballah, may ultimately be doomed because they lack bipartisan support. Some Democrats have complained that these bills may unnecessarily hinder the President ‘s efforts to implement the deal and/or effectively kill it.
Some pundits are beginning to advocate for a tougher response than sanctions to these tests. Click here for a Politico article recommending that the US and its allies begin to ramp up our own ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in the Middle East and Europe.