Congress Has a Chance to Set Iran Policy Right—But Will It?

Dec. 12 2017

Donald Trump’s decision in October not to certify Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, writes Richard Goldberg, had a chilling effect on Europeans eager to do business with the Islamic Republic, thus putting immediate pressure on its economy. But the president did not attempt to fix or renegotiate the agreement; instead, he opened the door for Congress to institute new sanctions. Goldberg urges legislators to rise to the occasion:

At first, it seemed Congress might respond to the president’s call for action. Draft legislation circulated on Capitol Hill that would force an immediate snapback of all U.S. sanctions on Iran unless the regime halted its ballistic-missile program and allowed inspectors into key military sites where covert nuclear work may be taking place. It also used the threat of U.S. sanctions to erase the many sunset clauses contained in the original nuclear deal, which established a path toward an internationally recognized Iranian nuclear-weapons program within a decade.

Now, almost two months after the president’s decertification, it’s increasingly clear we are headed for a legislative train wreck. Supporters of the nuclear deal are locking down Senate Democrats, ensuring there could never be enough votes to break a filibuster on meaningful legislation that actually “fixed” the agreement. Gone would be any requirements that Iran halt its development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles—even though the UN Security Council resolution implementing the nuclear deal calls on Iran to do just that. Gone would be air-tight enforcement of inspections at Iranian military sites. Gone would be any automatic snapback of sanctions if the Iranians broke their obligations. Gone would be the president’s requirement to certify the deal every 90 days. The only thing left would be a de-facto legitimization of the deal tied to meaningless, non-binding policy statements designed to give political cover to senators who don’t want to look weak on Iran.

Given the executive branch’s unquestioned prerogative to change U.S. policy on the Iran deal and reimpose sanctions whenever the president wants, the leadership of the House and Senate should remember that bad Iran legislation is worse than no Iran legislation. Congress should not act unless it can pass legislation that increases U.S. leverage to change Iranian behavior by holding the sanctions sword of Damocles over the regime and its would-be trading partners in Europe.

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More about: Congress, Donald Trump, Iran sanctions, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

 

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy