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Keep Up the Pressure on Iran
One year into the life of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the best hopes and worst fears of the deal's advocates and critics have failed to materialize.
One year into the life of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international agreement that dismantled Iran’s nuclear program, the best hopes and worst fears of the deal’s advocates and critics have failed to materialize.
Those who believed that the nuclear deal would serve as the first chink in the armor of the clerical cohort ruling Iran have been disappointed. Iran’s leadership remains firmly in the hands of hardline revolutionaries dedicated to preventing change at home, implacably hostile to the West and our allies.
In May, Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati was elected as head of the Assembly of Experts. He is widely viewed as the most radical of Iran’s senior clerics. In the 1980’s, he reportedly supported the killing of his own son for belonging to an opposition group, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. As Guardian Council chairman, he worked to disqualifiy some 3,000 reformist candidates from running in last February’s parliamentary elections. As head of the Assembly of Experts, he will oversee the selection of the country’s next supreme leader. There are no meaningful signs of a changing of the guard in Tehran.
No one can argue that Iran has moderated its regional behavior. Thousands of elite Iranian Republican Guards are fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In March, Iran defied United Nations Security Council resolutions by test-firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Shiite militias trained and directed from Tehran continue to persecute and murder Iraq’s Sunni population. Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani threatened U.S. ally Bahrain in June with “a bloody intifada.” U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan said in an interview with Al Arabiya that same month, “I continue to be very concerned about Iran’s support for terrorist activities and terrorist groups, especially the Quds force and their activities inside Iraq, Syria, and other countries throughout the region.”
At the same time, fears of an economic windfall from the deal’s lifting of Iranian sanctions have not materialized. Writing for Politico, Richard Nephew and Elizabeth Rosenberg noted: “Iranians have struggled to access $100 billion of their assets unfrozen under the nuclear deal; even Secretary of State John Kerry says they have wrangled only $3 billion of this sum. Moreover, most foreign companies and banks are hanging back, unwilling to do deals in such a high-risk jurisdiction.”
Iranian leaders have complained loudly that sanctions relief has been insufficient to fuel real economic recovery. “They removed the sanctions in paper only,” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in March. In April, he told an audience of workers, “On paper the United States allows foreign banks to deal with Iran, but in practice they create Iranophobia so no one does business with Iran.”
In response, Kerry undertook an ill-fated and much-maligned effort to encourage foreign investment in Iran and to explore providing Iran access to offshore dollar clearing. U.S. Treasury officials quickly walked him back. On April 11, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said, “the U.S. financial system is not open to Iran, and that is not something that is going to change.” Adam Szubin, the acting Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in May, “we have not promised nor do we have any plans, to give Iran access to the U.S. financial system, or to reinstate what’s called the ‘U-turn’ authorization.” Notwithstanding these reassurances, leading members of both chambers of Congress continue to express concern about the administration’s intentions.
It has become clear in the year since the JCPOA came into force that Iran continues to push the envelope by undermining U.S. allies, supporting terrorist groups, and violating Security Council resolutions. The United States must remain firm in resisting what is by any definition dangerous and opportunistic behavior. Fortunately, a bipartisan consensus exists on the need to keep up the pressure on Iran. Congress should act decisively and expeditiously to:
1. Reauthorize the Iran Sanctions Act: First enacted in 1996, the act imposes sanctions on Iran in response to its sponsorship of terrorism and ballistic missile development. It is set to expire at the end of 2016. Reauthorizing the act would in no way violate the nuclear deal and would send a clear message of American resolve.
2. Sanction Iran for its continuing violations of ballistic missile testing regimes. The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Ben Cardin, are rightly pursuing such legislation, which should be supported.
3. Prohibit any U.S. financial institution from providing dollars for clearing facilities if any party to a transaction, anywhere in the financial chain, is an Iranian entity — as advocated by numerous experts, including Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
4. Hold Iran’s feet to the fire on human rights. Administration apologists are giving Iran a pass on human rights. While excoriating Gulf allies such as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia for issues of much lesser concern, we allow Iran to persist in the rampant, systemic, and savage repression of dissent and fundamental human freedoms. No country executes more juveniles than Iran. In 2014, it carried out the largest number of executions of any country other than China.
Photo credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images