The National Defense Authorization Act the Senate passed on Tuesday includes an amendment with a new round of sanctions on Iran. While sanctions the Senate passed last year focused primarily on Iran’s oil trade, this year’s bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), goes beyond that. The Wall Street Journal explained the sanctions as targeting:
“Iran’s energy, shipping and shipbuilding sectors, already in the sights of U.S. sanctions. But the legislation goes further, restricting trade with Iran in precious metals, graphite, aluminum and steel, metallugrical coal and software for integrating industrial processes. Under the bill, the President would have to report back to Congress on whether any material was being used as barter to furnish transactions with Tehran.”
After the President signed last year’s NDAA, which also included an Iran sanctions amendment sponsored by Menendez and Kirk, Iran has lost around $133 million per day in oil revenue and protests erupted across Iran as the value of its currency tanked. An oil analyst told Bloomberg that the sanctions were “an unqualified success.” “Many judge that Iran might soon decide it needs a nuclear compromise to produce an easing of sanctions,” a recent CRS report said.
But some find this new round of sanctions excessive. Reza Aslan, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said “if the purpose of this new round of sanctions is to pressure Iran to come to the negotiating table in a weakened position, that’s already happened. …These new sanctions are little more than empty politicking by senators eager to display their hard line, and ultimately self-defeating, stance against an American adversary.” The National Iranian American Council’s Policy Director Jamal Abdi concurred, saying, “every round of sanctions passed by Congress further limits the President’s flexibility at the negotiating table and undermines confidence that the U.S. can make a deal. If the President lacks the legal or political flexibility to ease the sanctions as leverage for Iranian concessions, a diplomatic resolution is impossible.” Abdi added that the impact could be vast, “there will be a major chilling effect as more third-country (i.e. not the U.S. or Iran) businesses are unable to ship or pay for transactions of any goods, including food, medicine, and communications goods.”
Former Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy, has said that increased sanctions are the best avenue toward a diplomatic solution. Halevy said in October that there needed to be “sanctions, more sanctions, more sanctions and many other things…The fact of the matter is the sanctions have not brought the end to the program but sanctions are hurting very much.”
Though the Obama administration believes that a diplomatic solution utilizing sanctions is the “best and more permanent” way to solve the crisis, it has voiced apprehension about the current sanctions legislation. National Security Council Spokesperson Tommy Vietor said that the administration has “concerns with some of the formulations as currently drafted in the text and want to work through them with our congressional partners to make the law more effective and consistent with the current sanctions law to ensure we don’t undercut our success to date.” The bill will be conferenced by the House and Senate this week.