On Thursday December 1, The US Senate unanimously voted for an extension of Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), which was supposed to end by the end of current year, for more ten years until end of 2026. The motion was passed likewise on November 15 with 419 representatives voting for and only 1 Republican voting Nay for it.
The Iran Sanctions Act was originally introduced in 1996 in Congress to impose economic sanctions on firms doing business with Iran and Libya. On September 30, 2006, the act was renamed to the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), as it no longer applied to Libya after the country decided to stop its nuclear program, and extended until December 31, 2011.
The act is considered as “additional efforts to deny Iran the financial means to sustain its nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile weapons programs.” Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) who had proposed the motion to pass the two chambers of US Congress emphasized in his opening speech for introducing the motion that “the goal was to stop significant foreign investment in Iran’s energy sector – denying the Iranian regime the ability to financially support international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and missile proliferation. Since then, this legislation has been reauthorized and expanded on several occasions.”
Such emphases along with clear mentioning of the ISA in Annex II of JCPOA among sanctions implementation of which was supposed to be ceased first indicate that all in all, it is categorized as a nuclear-related sanction against Iran.
Meanwhile, Article 26 of JCPOA declares that “The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions specified in Annex II that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA, without prejudice to the dispute resolution process provided for under this JCPOA. The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions specified in Annex II, or such an imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions, as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”
As of the moment news about the 99-0 vote spread, several Iranian officials and figures slammed the United States for re-introducing sanctions by renewing some legislation which was about to fade away in less than a month. Iran sees the move as breach of the nuclear deal which was clinched in 2015. The Americans, though, justify the act by claiming that it is based on a current regime of sanctions already in place. But Ed Royce seems to have a different idea; “After years of bipartisan work in the Congress, the Iran Sanctions Act has served as the statutory foundation of the Iran sanctions regime. Of course, President Obama’s dangerous nuclear deal with Iran dismantles it. Indeed, just last week we heard that a major European energy firm is close to investing $6 billion in Iran to develop its natural gas, which will in turn enrich the regime.” Royce admits that the regime has been dismantled by JCPOA.
Another point is that, even if this fact is not considered that this is a re-introduction of sanctions already ceased by JCPOA, another argument in Iran is that according to US political procedures, when a legislation passes the House and Senate and needs Presidential approval to turn into a law, it is considered as a new legislation, thus must be interpreted as imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Yet another reasoning from the American side is what the White House officials have announced; that President Obama will sign the Act into law and issues executive orders to waive parts considered in JCPOA. One way to interpret this argument is that it admits that it is re-introducing and re-imposing sanctions against Iran just before being ceased by presidential order.
Another way to face this argument is that according to ISA, where it discusses waiver possibilities, two waiver plans have been considered in the legislation; based on a general waiver “the president may, on a case by case basis, waive for a period of not more than six months the application of section 5(a) with respect to a national of a country, if the President certifies to the appropriate congressional committees at least 30 days before such waiver is to take effect that such waiver is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”
On the other hand, president can request "waiver with respect to persons in countries that cooperate in multilateral efforts with respect to Iran. The President may, on a case by case basis, waive for a period of not more than 12 months the application of section 5(a) with respect to a person if the President, at least 30 days before the waiver is to take effect.”
Both these articles clarify that a presidential request for a waiver must be presented to Congressional committee at least 30 days before the date of effectuality. When signed into law – as White House has stated it will be – it will be effective by beginning of January, less than a month from now; leaving President Obama with less than deadline mandated by ISA act for a waiver request.
As a legal and political document, the JCPOA can be discussed over for days and months and different interpretations might be drawn from it. But from a pragmatic point of view, what is important to Iran and all the 5+1 countries is that the nuclear deal which was achieved after 12 years of hard work, can survive. When President-elect Donald Trump stated during his campaigns that he would tear the deal, many European countries opposed his positions and considered it against survival of the deal.
Now with less than two months for him to come to office, current administration seems to taking measures putting the JCPOA at risk. It once imposed visa waiver program against people who visited or will visit Iran and has not yet allowed global banking system work for Iran and thus has still Iran’s banking transactions under ban in practice. It more seems that Washington is trying hard to irritate Iran over JCPOA, not allowing it to benefit from the benefits of the deal, to force the country into violating it. Iran has always emphasized that it will not be the first to violate the deal it has signed, but if the other side continues to sabotage its commitments, Tehran will certainly return to its pre-JCPOA status in its nuclear program. The risky game Obama administration has already begun since implementation of the deal, can end up in a dangerous destination considering that the next president of the US is supposed to be a figure as unpredictable as Donald Trump.
Unlike what the American negotiators had promised during negotiations, to make any efforts, to convince the Congress not to renew Iran Sanctions Act, the overwhelming votes in both chambers of the Congress shows that the Obama administration has done nothing in this regard and has been an onlooker. Now, if either the US or other members of 5+1 are serious in saving the JCPOA, they’d better convince the United States to play more rationally and less ambitiously and leave a legacy which can be defended by other European parties, even if Trump’s America would be dangerous to it.
Hamid Reza Gholamzadeh has done his MA in North American Studies and his focus has been on US policies towards the Middle East. He is also English Chief Editor of Mehr News Agency.