- By Dan De LuceDan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent. He joined FP in June 2015 after working as Pentagon correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Prior to that, Dan reported for the Guardian from Iran until he was expelled by the regime in 2004. After the end of communist rule in Eastern Europe, Dan worked as a freelance journalist in Prague. He later covered the war in former Yugoslavia for Reuters from 1993 to 1995 before serving as Sarajevo bureau chief after the conflict. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dan lives in Washington with his wife, journalist and author Caitriona Palmer, and his four children.
The Trump administration said Wednesday it will renew sanctions relief for Iran promised under a 2015 nuclear deal but also announced new punitive measures against Iranian officials over the country’s ballistic missile program.
The moves indicated that while President Donald Trump was not ready to openly jettison the international nuclear agreement with Iran, he was keen to display a tougher line over Tehran’s actions across the region.
“They want to send a signal that is: ‘don’t count on us sticking to the deal, don’t think everything is OK,’” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and a strong supporter of the nuclear agreement negotiated between Iran and major world powers.
The administration’s announcement came before Iran holds a presidential election on Friday, and it’s unclear if Trump’s strident rhetoric — and the fate of the nuclear deal — will shape the outcome. The current president, Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who pushed for the 2015 nuclear deal, is considered the slight favorite over Ebrahim Raisi, a former prosecutor who is closely tied to the country’s ruling hardline clerics.
Raisi has sought to portray the nuclear deal as an empty promise perpetrated by Iran’s adversaries, calling it “a check the government has been unable to cash.”
Trump, who is due to visit the Middle East next week, vowed to “tear up” the nuclear deal as a candidate but since taking office in January, the administration has upheld the agreement while reviewing U.S. policy and announcing a series of narrow sanctions that fall outside the accord.
The nuclear agreement eased crippling economic sanctions on Iran in return for imposing strict limits on its nuclear program. Critics in Iran have complained that the deal has not produced sufficient economic benefits, and critics in the United States say it rewarded Iran without long-term guarantees to prevent Tehran from securing nuclear weapons.
The United States will continue to “waive sanctions as required to continue implementing U.S. sanctions-lifting commitments” under the nuclear deal, the State Department said in a statement.
Trump administration officials say the White House is carrying out a comprehensive review of U.S. policy on Iran, which is focused on what officials consider Tehran’s expanding influence in the region.
Washington has labeled Iran as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and accuses it of sowing instability in the region through its backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war.
The administration’s policy review “does not diminish the United States’ resolve to continue countering Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region, whether it be supporting the Assad regime, backing terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, or supporting violent militias that undermine governments in Iraq and Yemen,” the State Department statement said.
While extending sanctions relief for Iran under the nuclear deal, the Treasury Department separately announced it had imposed sanctions on two Iranian defense officials, an Iranian company, a Chinese national and three Chinese companies for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Some experts and congressional staffers dismissed the latest sanctions as largely cosmetic measures that would not have any concrete impact on the country’s economy.
“These are symbolic actions that don’t really change anything, “ one Democratic congressional aide told FP.
But some supporters of a more aggressive approach to Iran praised the measures unveiled Wednesday, arguing that the United States needed more time to gain leverage over Iran before it addressed the shortcomings of the nuclear deal.
“Call it the waive-and-slap approach,” Mark Dubowitz and David Albright wrote in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal. Both Dubowitz, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Albright, a physicist with the Institute for Science and International Security, have heavily criticized the nuclear agreement.
“It’s a clear message to foreign banks and companies looking to do business with Iran: You will be taking significant risks if you deal with a country still covered by a web of expanding nonnuclear sanctions,” they wrote.
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