As discussions over a new nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic seem to be coming to a close, the Biden administration appears poised to grant sweeping relief not only from nuclear sanctions, but also from terrorism- and human-rights-related sanctions on specific individuals. Orde Kittrie argues that “sacrificing human-rights concerns to achieve arms-control objectives is both unnecessary and counterproductive.” By contrast, he notes, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan “maintained strong human-rights pressure on the Soviet Union while successfully negotiating major arms-control agreements.” Kittrie warns of the grievous implications of such a decision, and urges Congress to take action to block it:
The Iranians who will reportedly be freed from all sanctions under the nuclear deal include Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Ebrahim Raisi, Vice-President Mohsen Rezaei, and Hossein Dehghan, a former brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Each has a horrific record of personal responsibility for human-rights abuses and terrorism.
Khamenei was Iran’s president from 1981 until 1989 and has been its supreme leader since then. As such, Khamenei is ultimately responsible for four decades of Iranian human-rights abuses and support for terrorism. A U.S. federal court held Khamenei personally responsible for the deaths of nineteen U.S. servicemembers in the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Federal courts have also held Khamenei personally responsible for the deaths of U.S. civilians in three terrorist bombings in Israel—two on public buses and one at an outdoor market in Jerusalem.
Raisi is responsible for the execution of thousands of political prisoners and the unlawful torture and execution of hundreds of peaceful protesters. All sanctions will likewise reportedly be lifted on Rezaei, a former IRGC commander-in-chief who is wanted by Argentina for organizing a 1994 attack on a Jewish community center that killed 85 people.
Lifting sanctions on these Iranian human-rights abusers and terrorism sponsors would send a dangerous message of impunity to Vladimir Putin and his henchmen at a time when they are committing war crimes in Ukraine and human-rights abuses in Russia. Such a decision is contrary to America’s values, would wrongly abandon the Islamic Republic’s many victims—including hundreds of current political prisoners and detainees—and would also weaken deterrence against future abuses in Iran and make it harder for the Iranian people to liberate themselves from the Iranian regime.