For years I have tried to persuade my friends in Congress that they need to assert their constitutional responsibility to influence and shape our foreign policy as the elected leaders closest to the people, not leaving all foreign policy decisions to the executive branch of government.
President Donald Trump’s decertification of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is the perfect opportunity for Congress to join together with the executive branch to advance American security interests.
Decertification creates an opening for Congress to take the lead and change the balance of power, which is currently in Iran’s favor.
Congress’ goal should be to reestablish American leverage over Iran’s malevolent behavior, to renegotiate the terms of the JCPOA on sunset provisions, R&D, inspections, and cooperation with North Korea, by creating new, non-nuclear related sanctions against Iranian nuclear missile development, international terrorism, and human rights abuses, all of which are not addressed by the JCPOA (Iran deal).
If these new sanctions are effective, there will be no need to reintroduce nuclear-related sanctions threatening to bring us in confrontation with our allies.
Trying instead to add triggers to the current Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), requiring 60 votes in the Senate, would be a failing strategy. New sanctions should be constructed requiring only a simple majority for passage.
Let’s be clear: if the president wanted to withdraw from the deal he certainly has more than enough evidence to do so.
It does not take much to make the case that Iran is advancing its nuclear program through North Korea, or as reported in the British Sunday Telegraph, the British Foreign Office believes “For [North Korea] to have done this entirely on their own stretches the bounds of credulity.”
Not to mention multiple German intelligence reports documenting continued Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of the JCPOA through front companies, most recently in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with over 30 nuclear procurement attempts.
Even president Barack Obama promised that the JCPOA would not inhibit future non-nuclear sanctions, and indeed he extended non-nuclear sanctions before leaving office in January.
According to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Obama said, “Iran’s... support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and repeated threats against Israel remain contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
The Trump administration’s decertification of the JCPOA is a step in the right direction, but it will be effective only if Congress takes the lead and has the vision to force Iran back to the bargaining table due to financial pressure.
The carrot of billions in front-loaded sanctions relief has not changed Iranian behavior, so the stick of new sanctions is the only logical step.
President Trump should be commended for listing the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) as a terrorist group and authorizing the Treasury to further sanction the IRGC, as it is the vanguard for the ayatollahs, advancing their worldwide ambitions against American interests. But that is not enough.
The president choose not to order the State Department to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist group, under pressure from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. This was a mistake.
Congress needs to legislate and force the hand of the administration to use this much more effective strategy to bring Iran back to negotiations.
As IRGC commander Maj.-Gen.
Ali Ja’afari said, “We are on the path that leads to the rule of Islam worldwide.”
We should take his words seriously.
The administration needs to understand that Iran is not a rational state actor but a revolutionary ideological movement that does not use Western rationales to advance its interests.
Therefore I would avoid at this point reimposing nuclear-related sanctions like the Iran Sanctions Act, the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act or Iran Threat Reduction Syrian Human Rights Act.
However, even more onerous sanctions should be legislated on their other nefarious activities, which will in effect bring them back to renegotiate the JCPOA, New sanctions need to be even more tough if Congress wants to give the administration leverage to renegotiate the nuclear deal.
The key is pressure on the financial stability of the IRGC, which is intimately involved in terrorism as well as with nuclear weapons development at home and in North Korea. The IRGC controls somewhere between 20% to 50% of the Iranian economy, in essence stealing the Iranian people’s money, just as the totalitarian Soviet Union did.
But what about the Europeans? How will they react to new American sanctions affecting their lucrative economic deals with Iran? As Richard Goldberg, one of the unsung heroes of the original sanctions legislation, wrote in Foreign Policy this month, “Trump should...
hold a sanctions Sword of Damocles over the Iranian economy: change your behavior or risk total economic collapse... Cry as they might along the way, no European or Asian corporation is going to choose a terrorist regime over access to the US dollar.”
European companies doing business with Iran will have to choose between the $400 billion Iranian economy and having full access to the $17 trillion American financial system. The Europeans don’t have to support sanctions, but they will have to respect them if constructed properly by Congress and in their financial interest.
The real question is whether congressional Republicans can act in concert for the national good, and avoid internal bickering.
As reported in the Washington Free Beacon, “This is the party [Republican] whose platform reads, ‘A Republican president will not be bound by the [Iran] deal and we must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the survival of our friends.’ Now they must act.”
What about Democrats like Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, and ranking members of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Elliot Engel, all who spoke out and voted against the deal in 2015? Are they willing to choose national interests over loyalty to president Obama’s legacy, or will they choose party loyalty that reflexively opposes anything Republicans propose, even if in the national interest? Now the ball is in Congress’ court.
Lets hope they act.
The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.