Is Congress Trying To Torpedo US-Iran Engagement?

Today the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is marking up H.R. 2194, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009. Rep. Steny Hoyer has “committed to moving the bill quickly to a vote once it is passed out of the committee.”

The American Enterprise Institute’s Iran Tracker website looked at the potential impact of the gas sanctions, and concluded that “the imposition of sanctions might generate no significant change in Iranian policy in the short term.” It also notes that “the group that should be the target of strengthened sanctions, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is least likely to be affected”:

Some analysts have argued that the IRGC actually benefits from a more economically isolated Iran because it no longer has to compete with foreign companies for government contracts. For example, one of the main engineering companies under IRGC control, Khatam al-Anbiya, has secured at least $7 billion in government oil, gas, and transportation contracts. Although IRGC companies do not always have the necessary technical expertise for some projects, they still generate revenue by acting as an intermediary between the government and international companies. IRGC members may continue to receive government contracts and subsidy money even if the government adjusted domestic economic policies.

So even the high church of U.S. aggression recognizes that not only would gas sanctions likely not have any effect on Iran’s nuclear policy, they could also end up empowering the very faction whose increased control over Iranian policy has resulted in Iran more aggressively pursuing its nuclear program. And that’s the upside. The downside is that the U.S. Congress moving forward with unilateral sanctions — with all the inevitable hawkish posturing that that entails — at an especially sensitive juncture in negotiations will provide opponents of a deal within the Iranian regime with precisely the demonstration of American bad faith — and thus a convenient excuse to walk away — that they’re looking for.