In response to Iranian ballistic missile tests and research, which officials believe included cooperation with North Korea, the Obama Administration is set to impose its first financial sanctions on Iran since the nuclear deal. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The planned action by the Treasury Department, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal, is directed at nearly a dozen companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates for their alleged role in developing Iran’s ballistic-missile program.
Iranian officials have warned the White House in recent months that any such financial penalties would be viewed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a violation of the nuclear accord.
Senior U.S. officials have said the Treasury retained a right under the agreement to blacklist Iranian entities allegedly involved in missile development, as well as those that support international terrorism and human-rights abuses. Officials view those activities as separate from the nuclear deal.
The Iran nuclear deal is the foundation stone of President Obama’s Middle East policy. He has paid an immense price for the deal at home and abroad. The highest price, moreover, has been paid by the hundreds of thousands dead in sectarian strife and the millions forced out of their homes in Iraq and Syria as the U.S. avoided any actions in those countries that might have threatened Iran’s willingness to sign on the dotted line.
But now the deal is being tested by Iran’s determination to persist with ballistic missile developments in defiance of the U.N. Security Council resolution on the matter. The defiance is so open and blatant that the Administration has no choice but to propose new sanctions.
Given its past track record, what the Administration is likely to do is to split the difference. It will try to find sanctions that look tough enough to limit domestic criticism but are unoffending enough to minimize the risk that Iran will repudiate the nuclear deal. The message to Iran will be that the U.S. remains constrained and that Iran can go on testing the boundaries of compliance without fearing any serious U.S. pushback in the 12 remaining months of President Obama’s time in office.
However, the WSJ also reports that Iran sent to Russia 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium this week. That will, the story notes, reduce Tehran’s capacity to make nukes and it has strengthened America’s position. This is a good time for a tough line on missile sanctions that would force Iran to pay a real price for its weapons development programs. A U.S. failure to take advantage of this opportunity, on the other hand, will likely lead to more and not less Iranian adventurism in the region. All in all, it’s a bad start for Administration policy in the Middle East for the new year.