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Testing Testing
White House to Introduce New Iran Sanctions

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.

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  • Boritz

    “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.”

    And so Iran will not be obligated to keep any promise they have made.
    It looks like the president is threatening to shut down the agreement much like a Republican Congress threatens to shut down the government.

  • FriendlyGoat

    And the right answer is “The deal is bigger than your so-called Supreme Leader. We really do not care what he thinks.”

    • seattleoutcast

      I thought the Supreme Leader had all the power. What are you saying?

      • FriendlyGoat

        The Supreme Leader indeed has too much power in Iran. We should be telling the country of Iran that we have made a deal with “it” (the country) and will not be bending to the feelings or opinions of the Ayatollah after the fact.
        He is not to be the arbiter of the definition of “violations”. It’s time to call the nut a nut if he starts waffling.

    • Andrew Allison

      What part of “Supreme Leader” is unclear? We’re dealing with a theist State ruled by him. He has all the power, and the only way to change that is to destroy him and the State he rules. Is that what you propose?

      • FriendlyGoat

        It would have been fine with me if one Ayatollah after another had been “accident victims” since 1979. The fact the we somehow did not manage to derail these men one after another is the reason we have the mess we have with Iran. My point is that —–“”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”—–should be met with
        And so what?

        • Andrew Allison

          It would represent an excuse to blatantly, as opposed to surreptitiously as at present, pursue development of nuclear weapons.

          • FriendlyGoat

            And an excuse for the rest of the world to be much tougher with the sanctions Iran wants rid of. I’m just sayin’ —-you GOTTA back the Ayatollah down. Nothing else will ever work. We have 36 years of experience with this now. Are we wising up yet?

  • adk

    The real test will come after US releases, per agreement, $100-150 bln of frozen Iranian assets and lifts the oil export embargo. Will Khamenei then feel he got enough from the Great Satan to drop the whole charade? Or just press ahead with more blatant violations?

    Watch Obama & Co doing more Cirque Du Soleil verbal acrobatics in 2016.

  • Andrew Allison
  • bottomfish

    Of course the US is not required to stick by the deal. It’s unsigned and
    not legally binding anyway:

    By shipping the enriched material to Russia, Iran effectively puts the ball in the US court and can wait expectantly for sanctions removal. Perhaps at a later stage the question of Arak will come up. What will Iran do then? If Iran fails to comply, will sanctions snap back?

  • adk

    Well, that announcement of new sanctions didn’t last long, Yet another Obama red line bit the dust in no time. Very impressive — I expected that to happen a little later.

    U.S. Lawmakers Blast Delay on Iran Sanctions

    Critics say White House U-turn on missile-test penalties hurts nuclear deal’s enforcement

    Leading lawmakers, including supporters of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, rapped the White House for delaying fresh sanctions on Tehran over its missile program, warning that the move would embolden it to further destabilize the Middle East.

    The abrupt reversal by the administration came as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani publicly ordered his military to dramatically scale up the country’s missile program if the sanctions went ahead.

    Iranian state media reported American and Iranian diplomats undertook intensive deliberations in recent days to discuss the sanctions issue.

    White House and State Department officials declined to comment on what was discussed with the Iranian side. U.S. officials said Secretary of State John Kerry has been in nearly constant contact with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, in recent days.

    Iran’s most powerful political figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly warned that any new sanctions imposed by the U.S., including in relation to Tehran’s missile program, would violate the nuclear agreement.

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