Analysis: Sanctions Bill Poses Risk for Iran Deal

For Immediate Release: March 28, 2017

Media Contact: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102.

(Washington, D.C.)—Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and 13 other Senators introduced a new Iran sanctions bill that would, if enacted, jeopardize the success of the July 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Although the legislation (S. 722) focuses on areas not explicitly covered by the nuclear deal, such as Iran’s ballistic missile activity and support for terrorism, sections of the legislation risk undermining U.S. commitments in the agreement.

If this bill becomes law, it could threaten the ongoing implementation of the nuclear deal, which is successfully blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. Specifically:

Section 4

This section of the proposed legislation would violate the spirit of the U.S. commitment not to take actions that impede Iran’s access to sanctions relief. It imposes mandatory sanctions on entities whose activity “poses a risk of materially contributing” to Iran’s ballistic missile program. This language is overly broad and imprecise, making it difficult for any company considering business with an Iranian entity to ascertain if that entity is involved in activities that could pose a risk of contributing to Tehran’s ballistic missile development. This provision would likely prevent third party companies and banks from doing business with Iran by generating unnecessary risks. Creating this obstacle runs contrary to paragraph 26 of the nuclear deal, which says that: “United States will make best efforts in good faith to sustain this JCPOA and to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting specified in Annex II.”  This language also risks alienating U.S. partners in the agreement–France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China–and sanctioning entities in these states for engaging in legitimate business permitted by the nuclear deal.

Section 8

This section could prevent the United States from fulfilling its commitments to remove individuals and entities from the sanctions designated list on Transition Day, which will occur in 2023 at the latest. According to the text of the nuclear deal, on Transition Day, Washington will delist a set group of individuals and entities, including some designated for ballistic missile activity under Executive Order 13382. The bill will prevent the president from delisting individuals unless a certification is issued that the individual or entity has not engaged in activities related to Iran’s ballistic missile program in the prior three months. Continued engagement in illicit ballistic missile activity by these listed entities is undesirable, but there are no conditions for delisting these entities under the deal. If the president cannot fulfill U.S. obligations to delist individuals and entities, the United States would be in violation of the nuclear agreement.

Iran’s support for terrorist groups is destabilizing and its continued testing of ballistic missiles runs contrary to the spirit of UN Security Resolution 2231, but risking the success of the 2015 agreement, which is blocking Iran’s pathways to the nuclear weapons, is irresponsible and dangerous. For more than a year, Tehran’s nuclear activities have remained restricted and heavily monitored and, according to the most recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran is continuing to abide by its commitments under the nuclear agreement.

Before rushing to support this legislation or future bills on Iran, members of Congress should carefully and fully consider the impact on the Iran nuclear deal and the consequences of undermining the accord.

Without the continued and effective implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran’s nuclear program would be subject to less monitoring and far fewer restraints, posing a proliferation risk and threatening international security. Additional sanctions as proposed in S. 722 risk the future of the deal and are unnecessary and unwarranted at this time.