January 23, 2015

Analysis of New Sanctions Legislation: Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015

On January 16, 2015, the Senate Banking Committee circulated the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, “To expand sanctions imposed with respect to Iran and to impose additional sanctions with respect to Iran, and for other purposes.”

As written, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 would impose an escalating series of economic sanctions, culminating in a de facto economic embargo on Iran by December 2015. According to U.S. government officials, our European partners in the nuclear negotiations, and Iran, these new sanctions would either violate or be perceived to violate our commitment not to impose new ‘nuclear-related’ sanctions on Iran during negotiations. As Deputy Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said at a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, “[Any] new sanctions enacted by Congress would be viewed by Iran and the international community as the U.S. breaking out of the understandings of the JPOA.” This could – according to the UK, French, and German foreign ministers – “fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions effective so far.” Already, Iran’s parliament is preparing legislation in response to any new sanctions bill, which would dramatically accelerate the scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment. 

The proposed legislation further provides: If the U.S. and Iran agree to a comprehensive nuclear deal before July 1, 2015 and the President submits the text of the agreement to Congress within 5 days, the sanctions would not become effective. However, upon submitting the agreement, the President would lose all existing authorities to waive or suspend sanctions (beyond what has already been suspended under the interim Joint Plan of Action), as well as the ability to otherwise implement the nuclear deal, until Congress has had 30 days of continuous session to consider the agreement.

In computing the 30 days of continuous session of Congress, the count will exclude days on which the Senate or House is not in session because of an adjournment of more than 3 days and would restart if Congress adjourns sine die (i.e., final adjournment). In other words, the review period will last longer than 30 calendar days.

This provision would unnecessarily defer the implementation of a final deal and delay putting in place the necessary constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. It would also provide those committed to opposing any nuclear deal the time required to mobilize against the agreement during the period in which Congress is examining the agreement. Any failure on the part of Congress to support the nuclear deal would risk freeing Iran from its nuclear-related obligations pursuant to a final deal and isolating the U.S. – not Iran – from our allies and partners.

As the U.S., its P5+1 partners, and Iran enter the final stretch in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, new sanctions legislation risks undermining U.S. negotiating leverage. According to a senior U.S. administration official closely involved in the negotiations, “[Sanctions talk] bolsters the hardliners” in Tehran “who don’t believe [the U.S.] will reverse the sanctions no matter what Iran does.” This is not the message of support Congress needs to be sending our negotiators as they work to ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful.  

Below, the sanctions to be imposed on Iran pursuant to the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2015 are outlined:

JPOA Sanctions Reinstated

July 6, 2015: all sanctions deferred, waived, or suspended pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action will be reinstated

Purchases of Iranian Gas Condensates Included in Determining Whether to Grant Exemption

August 3, 2015: Section 1245(d) of the 2012 NDAA will be amended to prohibit states who have reduced their purchases of Iranian crude oil (and have thus been granted an exemption by the President) to increase purchases of Iranian gas condensate

Embargo on Purchase of Iranian Oil

September. 7, 2015: Section 1245(d) of the 2012 NDAA will be further amended to require countries who purchase Iranian petroleum and who seek an exemption from the President to reduce its purchase of Iranian petroleum to a ‘de minimis level’ by the end of the 240-day period beginning on September 7, 2015.

Expanded List of Blocking Sanctions on Iranian Officials/Persons

October 5, 2015: Section 221 of the TRA would be amended to expand the list of individuals subject to visa restrictions to include:

  • foreign sanctions evaders;
  • individuals acting on behalf of the Government of Iran who are involved in corrupt activities of that Government or the diversion of humanitarian goods;
  • senior officials of an entity designated pursuant to EO 13382 (WMD proliferation) or 13224 (support for global terrorism);
  • and an expanded list of senior officials of the Iranian Government (if involved in Iran’s illicit nuclear activities; support for international terrorism; or human rights abuses).
    • This would include senior officials of:
      • the Office of the Supreme Leader
      • the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
      • the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran
      • the Council of Ministers of Iran
      • the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics of Iran
      • the Ministry of Justice of Iran
      • the Ministry of Interior of Iran
      • the prison system of Iran; or
      • the judicial system of Iran.
    • It would also subject all such persons to blocking sanctions (including family members of such persons if property was transferred to the family member by the designated person), meaning that any property or interests in property of such persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction is blocked.

Sanctions on Banks or Persons Engaging in Currency Swaps with Iran

November 2, 2015: the TRA will be amended to add sanctions prohibiting foreign banks or persons from engaging in a “significant transaction” related to the currency of a country other than the country with primary jurisdiction over the bank or person with or on behalf of the Central Bank of Iran or any other Iranian financial institution or with a person identified as part of Iran’s energy, shipping, or shipbuilding sector.

Strategic Sector Sanctions and De Facto Embargo on Iran

December 7, 2015: IFCA will be amended:

  • finding Iran’s automotive, construction, engineering, and mining sectors as facilitating Iran’s nuclear proliferation activities;
  • designating entities that operate special economic zones or free economic zones in Iran and entities in Iran’s strategic sectors as entities of proliferation concern;
  • blocking the property of any person that is part of the automotive, construction, engineering, and mining sectors in Iran;
  • imposing ISA-related sanctions (or financial sanctions) on persons (or foreign financial institutions) that sell, supply, or transfer to or from Iran goods or services used in connection with a strategic sector (or facilitate a significant financial transaction for sale, supply, or transfer to Iran of such goods or services); and
  • imposing ISA-related sanctions on a person who provides underwriting services or insurance or reinsurance to or for any person with respect to a strategic sector of Iran.

Presidential Waiver

The President is granted the authority to waive the application of sanctions imposed pursuant to the bill for 30-days periods, provided the President certifies to Congress that:

  • the waiver (or renewal) is in the national security interest;
  • the waiver (or renewal) is necessary to and likely to result in achieving nuclear deal;
  • Iran is not making further progress on a nuclear weapons program and is in compliance with all interim agreements with respect to that program; and

The President is also required to submit to Congress a comprehensive report on the status of negotiations towards a nuclear deal that includes an assessment of the likelihood of reaching that solution and the timeframe anticipated for achieving it.

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