During the last week in October, the United States House of Representatives passed non- nuclear legislation that targets the Iran’s ballistic missile program and Iran’s support for Hezbollah. The motion for the new sanctions bill - Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 1698) - passed almost unanimously with a vote of 423 – 2 (alongside H.R. 3329 Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act and H.R. 3342 Sanctioning Hezbollah’s Illicit Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act). This measure requires the Trump Administration to identify companies and individuals, Iranian and non-Iranian, who are supplying the Iranian ballistic program.
This is just the last political act with witch US has rethought its attitude toward Iran in the last year. Since U.S. President Trump has taken office, US policy is driving back to a more antagonistic rhetoric compared to the efforts made by the previous Obama Administration for finding a dialogue with Teheran after thirty years. On 13th October President Donald Trump refused to certify Iran's compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action also commonly known as the Iran Deal or the Iran Nuclear Deal is an international agreement on the nuclear program of Iran between Iran, the P5 + 1 (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, and Germany), and the European Union. Formal negotiations in late 2013 made way for the resurrection of the current JCPOA agreement. Under the agreement, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce the number of its gas centrifuges by about two thirds for 13 years. For the next 15 years, Iran will only be allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67% and, for the same amount of time, is not allowed to build any new heavy water facilities. Additionally, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is required to have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. In exchange for these limitations on the nuclear program, the players committed themselves to lifting sanctions that they had imposed on Iran for its nuclear program.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would not make the certification provided for under U.S. domestic law, but stopped short of terminating the deal, accusing Iran of violating the “spirit” of the deal and calling on the U.S. Congress and international partners to address the serious flaws of the JCPOA agreement to limit the Iranian regime’s use of nuclear weapons. President Trump has previously certified the deal twice since taking over the office - in April and July 2017. However, his announcement of decertification, saying it was not in the US national interests, calls on the US lawmakers to make a decisive action.
The certification of United States commitment to this agreement is not required by the JCPOA itself; rather, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, passed by the U.S. Congress, requires the President to certify the continued sanction relief of the JCPOA every 90 days.
President Trump’s plan, differing from plan of former United States President Obama, relies on his former campaign promises on America’s relationship with Iran. He proposed on October 13th a new strategy to counter what he calls Iran’s “destructive” actions: to work with allies to counter the regime destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies; to place additional sanctions to block their financing of terror; to address the regimes proliferation of missiles and weapons that threaten its neighbors, global trade, and freedom of navigation; to deny all paths to a nuclear weapon.
The Trump Administration’s decision to not certify to Congress that the suspension of sanctions is appropriate is a laden unilateral decision. It now leaves the U.S. Congress to decide, within a formal sixty day review, the case to reimpose sanctions.
The U.S. Congress, against President Trump’s view on national interest, has so far indicated that it plans to ensure the United States complies with the JCPOA agreement. While Congress has until mid-December to decide whether to reimpose sanctions lifted under the deal, even those who initially opposed the deal, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as well as two top Democrats on the foreign affairs committees, Rep. Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen Cardin (D - Md.), have since warned the Trump administration and Republicans counterparts against unraveling the accord by reimposing sanctions. However, there are still some hawks, especially inside the Republican Party, which are trying to take advantages from this opportunity for making US to adopt a tougher approach toward Iranian Government. It’s the case of Senator Book Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who continues to draft legislation with other members of the Republican party, Democrats and the Trump Administration to send a message to Tehran. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) specially allows the Senate to reinstate sanctions packages with a majority vote of just 51 senators. The Republicans currently hold 52 Senate seats and hold a comfortable majority within the House, of which many members insist on showing tough action against the current Iran Nuclear Deal.
However, generally, both Republican and Democrat staff members have indicated that the bipartisan consensus has been formed against taking any legislative action that would breach the agreement or trigger a breach of the agreement.
The other signatories of the JCPOA have expressed their concerns about the U.S. challenge and potential withdrawal from the deal. French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed their commitment to ensuring the JCPOA is maintained, with or without the US, as the deal is not a bilateral one, but a multilateral one. Additionally, Russia and China are unlikely to go along with any new U.S. sanctions as they have outwardly stated their desire to preserve the deal.
However, the US role is crucial, and moreover, any new sanctions imposed by the U.S. would backtrack Iran’s commitment to the deal. While the new US laws would not break of the imposed restrictions and agreements between the US, Iran, and the other implementers, the move has sparked differing reactions among Iranian academics and officials. Lifting the sanctions was the major motive for Iran to go along with the deal, once these major sanctions are back in place, regardless of their stated cause, Tehran may present backlash.
The EU, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, would have to deal with Iran and take responsibility collectively with Russia and China against the United States on this issue. European companies, who have signed contracts with Iranian entities, would be forced to decide between honoring their contracts and choosing to comply with the US imposed sanctions. It would difficult for Iran’s customers, a majority of which are European companies pursuing crude oil purchases who would be reluctant to take on halting partnerships by means of economic sanctions.
Nevertheless, unilateral action by the United States would make implementation to mobilize international pressure to Iran difficult, with a high possibility that any destruction of the deal would damage U.S. credibility and turn international scrutiny to the United States. Furthermore, unilateral sanctions would not be nearly as adequate to moderate Iranian behavior, but they could quickly trigger an Iranian retort, escalating already tense relations. An unilateral response would almost fail to generate meaningful economic leverage and could possibly gesture to Iran that the international partnership against its nuclear motivations has been crushed, weakening US influence and reducing the probability not only to diplomatically resolve the Iranian nuclear issues but also to engage the Iranian authorities in other relevant regional challenges in the future.