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Trump Tries a ‘Waive-and-Slap’ Approach to Tehran

A plan to waive some sanctions while expanding others buys time to devise a lasting Iran strategy.

Trump Tries a ‘Waive-and-Slap’ Approach to Tehran

Mark Dubowitz
17th May 2017 - The Wall Street Journal

Co-written by David Albright

The Trump administration had no sooner renewed a waiver on U.S. sanctions against Iran’s crude-oil exports Wednesday than it introduced a raft of new sanctions against the regime. Call it the waive-and-slap approach.

The oil-exports sanctions waiver, which will continue to temporarily allow Iran to sell its crude oil to international customers despite the statutory sanctions, had come due as part of the Iran nuclear deal. But their renewal is no sign that President Trump is flip-flopping on his campaign promise to “tear up” the deal. The Trump administration is currently conducting an Iran-policy review. The last thing Mr. Trump should do before this policy is finalized is to make drastic and premature decisions that could incite a diplomatic backlash.

Mr. Trump needs to take his time developing a comprehensive strategy to roll back and subvert Iranian aggression. Only once U.S. leverage is restored can he address the deal’s fatal flaws. These include sunset provisions that give Tehran patient pathways to nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them; inadequate access for inspectors to Iranian military sites; unworkable controls on Iran’s overseas procurement for its nuclear and missile programs; poor assurance that Iran isn’t cooperating with North Korea on nuclear-capable missiles and sensitive nuclear activities; and front-loaded sanctions relief.

Until such a strategy is in place, the administration appears to have found an elegant way to maintain pressure on Iran. While waiving oil sanctions for a further 120 days, on Wednesday the U.S. Treasury Department applied sanctions to a further four entities and three individuals from Iran and China for activities relating to the regime’s ballistic-missile program. It’s a clear message to foreign banks and companies looking to do business with Iran: You will be taking significant risks if you deal with a country still covered by a web of expanding nonnuclear sanctions.

This comes on top of Treasury’s announcement Tuesday of new sanctions against Syria, Iran’s closest Arab ally in the Middle East. Those sanctions targeted the family members, companies and a charity connected to Bashar Assad’s regime bagman, Rami Makhluf.

In only four months, the Trump administration has applied sanctions to 281 individuals and entities associated with the Syrian regime and its henchmen, compared to a combined total of 317 from the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. There also have been more than 40 new sanctions connected to Iranian missile and terrorism activities and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Quds Force.

The U.S. State Department also released on Wednesday a report detailing Iran’s human-rights abuses, including its detention of U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals on false charges. This follows Monday’s release by State of a report detailing Mr. Assad’s industrial crematoriums in a prison complex where thousands of prisoners were summarily executed.

Last month, the Trump administration imposed two Iran-related human-rights sanctions, including one on Sohrab Soleimani —the brother of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the notorious Quds Force—for overseeing Iran’s infamous Evin Prison. That’s another stark warning to foreign companies: The Iranian regime is abetting the slaughter in Syria while your own employees could end up as hostages in Evin Prison.

The letter to Congress accompanying Wednesday’s waiver decision also goes into detail about Iran’s continued malign activities and the administration’s commitment “not to be deterred in confronting the Iranian regime.”

In other words, more may be to come. The next round of waiver decisions related to the Iran nuclear deal arrives in July and have to do with sanctions on energy, banking, shipping, shipbuilding and precious metals. That will be closely followed by a requirement for the administration to again certify that Iran is fully implementing the deal and hasn’t committed any material breach.

It will also release a six-month report on Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, including reporting on any noncompliance with the provisions of the deal, as well as Iranian missile, illicit financing and terrorist activities. At that time, the Trump administration should once again combine a temporary sanctions waiver with more nonnuclear sanctions measures and mechanisms to expose the Islamic Republic’s dangerous conduct.

Proponents of the nuclear deal will point to the Trump waiver as an indication that the deal is working. It’s not. Iran has committed numerous violations of its commitments under the nuclear deal relating to advanced centrifuge R&D, heavy-water caps and the denial of IAEA access to Iranian sites such as Sharif University, which is connected to previous undeclared nuclear activities.

Moreover, Iran has been exploiting many loopholes in the deal that border on violations or otherwise have a negative impact on U.S. national security. Even if these aren’t yet a material breach, it’s important to remember that the Iranian regime cheats incrementally, not egregiously, but that the sum total of that incremental cheating is eventually egregious.

The Iran nuclear deal is a deeply flawed agreement. But it is the nature and behavior of the regime that is the overarching danger to the security of the U.S. and its allies. The Trump administration is wise to hold off on making big moves until it has devised a full strategy to confront this broader threat. Until then, waive and slap should become the norm for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Dubowitz is the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mr. Albright is the president of the Institute for Science and International Security. Follow Mark on Twitter @mdubowitz

Tags

iran, north-korea, tehran, trump