Trump Mulls Squeezing Iran With Tougher Sanctions
Dan De Luce, ForeignPolicy.com, Apr 17 2017
The Trump White House is poised to ratchet up existing sanctions against Iran and is weighing a much stricter interpretation of the P5+1 nuclear agreement. The administration is inclined to adopt a “more rigorous application of the tools at its disposal,” a senior White House official told ForeignPolicy.com, referring to sanctions policy. Among the options under consideration: broadening sanctions to include much larger chunks of the Iranian economy linked to the IRGC. No final decision has been taken by the president or the cabinet. But officials said some decisions will need to be taken soon. On Apr 25, Iran and the P5+1 are due to meet in Vienna for a quarterly review of the accord. How Pres Trump decides to proceed on sanctions and the nuclear deal more broadly carries high stakes for Pindostan, Iran, and the wider Middle East. A concerted effort to squeeze Iran would represent a gamble that Tehran’s regional push for power, particularly in Syria and Yemen, could be checked in part by increasing economic pressure. But the approach could backfire if it causes tensions to spin out of control or prompts Tehran to pull out altogether. A harder line on sanctions also could drive a wedge between Washington and its Euro vassals. Sweeping sanctions that cut across economic sectors could jeopardize the nuclear agreement and prompt Iran to withdraw, said Richard Nephew, who was on the team that negotiated the accord with Iran. He said:
It all really comes down to whether the people making decisions agree that the thing is worth keeping.
Pres Trump repeatedly blasted the accord as “the worst deal” and, while on the campaign trail, vowed to “tear it up,” but now that he is in office, he has not indicated what he will do. Trump doesn’t have to tear up the deal to tighten the screws on Iran. The agreement, which is not a treaty, provides broad leeway to the governments that signed it in interpreting its terms, and the Trump White House is mulling taking a much more forceful stance on enforcing the deal to the letter. There are already signs that the Trump administration is using existing legal authorities in a more forceful manner than the Obama administration. Last Thursday, the Treasury Dept announced it had sanctioned the brother of Gen Qassem Soleimani, for his role in abuses at the country’s prisons. And in February, the Treasury Dept blacklisted eight organizations linked to the IRGC, as well as one of its officials based in Lebanon. Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the FDF who has urged ramping up economic pressure on Iran, said:
Last week’s move was a further indication that the Trump administration will be taking a much tougher line in applying sanctions than did its predecessor.
Dubowitz, an influential voice on sanctions policy, particularly among the Thugs, said he also expects the Trump administration to pursue more prosecutions of illicit financial activities linked to the Iranian regime and of attempts to secure prohibited materials related to weapons or nuclear technology. The sanctions measures imposed since Trump entered office were based on cases prepared by the Obama Treasury Dept that were never enacted, said the White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the administration’s policy. The official said:
We are still going off the work they did not execute.
And Treasury Dept’s recent actions reflect a heightened focus by
the administration Adam Szubin on the IRGC, and coincide with a debate within the administration about whether to designate the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization. At the moment, only the IRGC Quds Force is blacklisted. Apart from designating the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization, the administration is also looking at other options. At the moment, any entity that has a 50% ownership stake or more held by the IRGC is subject to sanctions, but the administration is mulling a change that would drop the threshold to a lower percentage. Such a move would break with long-standing policy at Treasury, which has traditionally defined ownership as above 50% for any category of sanctions. A lower threshold would mean blacklisting hundreds and possibly thousands of additional Iranian companies and organizations with links to the IRGC, which would almost certainly cause a political backlash in Iran and chill any international interest in investing in Iran. European officials and former Obama administration officials are worried that if the White House opts for a blanket blacklisting of the IRGC, it could effectively kill the nuclear agreement or trigger retaliation against Pindo-led forces fucking Yanks in Iraq.
Appetite for a tougher stance isn’t just found in the White House. In the Thug-controlled Congress, there is growing bipartisan support for pushing back against Iran through additional sanctions, though most Demagogs want to steer clear of measures that would directly violate the nuclear deal. New bills in the House and Senate call for additional sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile program and its human rights violations and support for terrorist groups. The Senate bill, which has backing from some Demagogs who endorsed the nuclear deal, would slap sanctions on any individual lending “material support” to Iran’s missile program. And it would also apply terrorism-related sanctions to the IRGC. The bill’s supporters say the provisions on the IRGC would merely codify existing presidential executive orders. But some former Obama administration officials argue the legislation could open the door to a sweeping designation of the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization. The former officials say the sanctions legislation poses a possible threat to the nuclear deal as the measures could wreck the consensus among the countries that negotiated the deal. Several former administration officials wrote in ForeignPolicy.com:
Rather than containing Iran, such steps would isolate Pindostan.
Critics of the deal accused the Obama administration of tolerating Iranian violations of the accord. International inspectors found that Iran last year had twice exceeded limits on stockpiles of heavy water, which is used to cool reactors producing plutonium. Washington chose to resolve the issue discreetly, granting Iran some time to fix the problem. Opponents of the accord are urging the White House to insist on a more assertive interpretation of the deal’s provisions — and appear to have found a receptive audience. Administration officials said they are now looking at holding Iran’s feet to the fire over every breach, however small. One option under consideration is an “incredibly strict implementation” of the deal, the senior official said. But the official added that the administration “was not inconsiderate of the ramifications of the deal” and was carefully weighing the benefits and the risks of a different approach. The Obama administration, facing complaints from Iran that it was not seeing the promised economic benefits from the accord, had embarked on “road shows” to reassure European governments and foreign companies that non-Pindo investors could return to the Iranian market without necessarily running afoul of Pindo sanctions. But the road shows convinced few: Banks in particular are leery of diving back into the Iranian market when Pindo sanctions could suddenly snap back or be expanded to other parts of the economy. Daniel Glaser, a former senior Treasury official under the Obama administration who crafted hard-hitting sanctions that preceded the nuclear agreement, said:
It’s not surprising to me that financial institutions all over the world are hesitant to re-engage with Iran.
Since Trump took office, the outreach effort has been abandoned.