J Street has long advocated for strengthening US efforts to counteract the Iranian regime’s provocative development of ballistic missiles, its deplorable support for international terrorism and its egregious human rights violations against its own people. We have supported legislation that does so without violating or undermining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which defanged Iran’s most dangerous behavior by blocking its pathways to a nuclear weapon.
At the same time, we have very serious concerns about new Senate legislation, the ‘‘Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act” (S.722) that would statutorily mandate sanctions being imposed on an unduly broad range of parties, potentially including legitimate businesses worldwide that have no intention whatsoever of aiding malign Iranian behavior. For example, the bill would direct the President to sanction foreign companies doing business with Iranian entities that – unknown to them – were engaged in completely unrelated activities that merely “posed a risk” of contributing to Iran’s ballistic missile program. Rendering such a sweeping range of activity subject to mandatory sanction – as opposed to leaving them as discretionary measures such as those found in Executive Order 13382 – is precisely the kind of over-broad injunction that is likely to prevent third party banks and other business from engaging in commerce expressly permitted under the JCPOA, thus denying Iran the benefits of the deal in possible violation of US obligations under the agreement.
While J Street also shares the Senate bill’s objective of increasing pressure on the terrorism-supporting Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), imposing sanctions too broadly in a way that chills legitimate commerce with Iran actually increases the IRGC’s resources and power, as black market business and smuggled goods concentrate in their hands, while support for regime hardliners grows with US-imposed economic hardship.
We therefore urge Senators to not lend their support to the bill until it is amended to more precisely target activity related to Iran’s malign non-nuclear behavior.
We also note that the bipartisan “Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act” (H.R.1698) introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Elliot Engel (D-NY) would more precisely increase targeted pressure on those in the Iranian regime working to further Iran’s dangerous ballistic missile program, as well as those beyond the regime who knowingly assist them in such efforts.
It is no secret that there are those who would like Congress to rush through the lawmaking process for the purpose of imposing new, broad US sanctions on Iran in the critical weeks before Iran’s May 19 Presidential elections. Granting Iranian hardliners’ wish for draconian US sanctions that help turn public opinion against the JCPOA and their JCPOA-supporting rival, President Rouhani, would be a deeply cynical and irresponsible move with potentially dramatic security consequences for the United States, our allies and servicepeople in the region.