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July 11, 2013

NIAC Policy Memo: Concerning Sanctions Bill Under Consideration in House

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The House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a new bill, H.R.850, that could seriously harm U.S.-Iranian relations and prospects for reaching a peaceful solution to the present crisis, as well as disproportionately hurt ordinary citizens in Iran.
   
 
The bill, entitled the “Nuclear Iran Prevention Act,” seeks to impose additional sanctions on U.S. allies for their ongoing trade with Iran. NIAC and others—including the Obama administration—have serious concerns that the bill would undermine rather than advance U.S. and international efforts to ensure Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons and would make war more, not less, likely. It also includes several other concerning provisions, outlined below.
 
 
  
This bill has already received considerable support in the House of Representatives (369 co-sponsors as of July 11), and could pass in the House within weeks.
 
 
  
Fortunately, the Senate has not yet introduced a companion sanctions bill, and there is optimism that the Senate may be more hesitant about moving forward with this bill.
  
NIAC is doing all it can to prevent this bill from becoming law, or at the very least remove some of its most harmful provisions. You can read about the actions we are taking below.

 

Concerning Provisions in H.R.850:

Adds Hurdles to Negotiations by Limiting President’s Authority to Lift Sanctions & Waivers

  • To negotiate a deal that verifiably prevents Iran from building a nuclear weapon, the President needs to be able to lift sanctions in exchange for Iranian concessions.  Congressional sanctions are more difficult for the President to reverse, particularly if they do not include a waiver authority or attack the President’s existing waiver authority.
  • A controversial amendment was added to H.R.850 that attacks the President’s existing authority to offer sanctions waivers to our allies and to lift specific sanctions that he was previously authorized by Congress to lift. This provision would even further restrict the President’s flexibility at the negotiating table and undermine confidence that he could lift sanctions in exchange for Iranian concessions on its nuclear program.
  • As a Bloomberg editorial warns, “As negotiator-in-chief, [Obama] needs to retain the power to turn the stick of sanctions into the carrot of relief,” and H.R.850 would significantly reduce this power.

Undermines Ongoing Diplomatic Efforts and Opportunities for Future Diplomacy

  • Further rounds of sanctions at this time could undermine ongoing diplomatic efforts. Secretary of State John Kerry, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Congress that “There’s an enormous amount of jockeying going on, with the obvious normal tension between hard-liners and people who want to make an agreement.  We don’t need to spin this up at this point in time…. You need to leave us the window to try to work the diplomatic channel.” (April 18, 2013)
  • The New York Times has similarly warned that “While sanctions are an important element of American strategy, piling more on at this moment could harm, rather than advance, the chances for a negotiated deal with Iran.”

Imposes Oil and Commercial Embargoes that Could Break Up International Coalition on Iran

  • The bill would impose a near-total oil embargo on Iran, which the Obama administration has opposed due to concerns that it could break international unity on Iran. According to CQ, such a move could “wipe out…the delicate diplomatic balance the Obama administration has tried to strike with foreign countries, encouraging them to reduce their trade with Iran in exchange for sanctions relief.”  The administration’s fears regarding the consequences of an oil embargo are shared by Senator Menendez (D-NJ), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is an outspoken proponent of stringent sanctions on Iran.
  • Currently, ten countries would be directly impacted as they continue to purchase Iranian crude oil (and have qualified for U.S. waivers to do so): China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Taiwan.
  • The bill would also impose U.S. sanctions on all trade—including humanitarian, agricultural, and licensed trade—with Iran by foreign countries.  As a congressional aide told CQ when this proposal was offered as part of an Iran sanctions package last year, they “would be impossible to enforce and only make our allies really angry. They would have endangered their cooperation with the sanctions we have now.”
  • The Obama Administration opposed these broad commercial sanctions in 2012, and the provisions were ultimately removed from the 2012 Iran sanctions legislation. But they have been included once again in H.R.850. The bill would target commerce between Iran and trading partners such as China, Turkey, India, and South Korea. This could strain those countries’ relationships with the U.S. and risk their retaliation by reducing cooperation on Iran and other matters.

Expands Medicine Shortages inside of Iran

  • The bill would pressure countries to reduce or eliminate exports of food and medicine to Iran. The bill fails to exempt food, medicine, and other licensed trade from the calculation of whether Iran’s trading partners would qualify for sanctions waivers. This would further exacerbate the medicine shortages being widely reported in Iran for patients with cancer, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, and thalassemia, and would have an even greater effect in blocking advanced, patented medicines produced only in Western countries that Iran and its remaining trading partners cannot produce.
  • The exemptions for trade in H.R.850 also do not include consumer essentials and items intended “to relieve human suffering,” like clothing and emergency shelter.  Additionally, H.R.850 does not exempt other items that have traditionally been exempted from sanctions, such as transactions for informational materials, travel-related goods and services, and communication tools.

Disproportionately Hurts Ordinary Iranians and Empowers Hardliners in Iran’s Government

  • Ordinary Iranians have held favorable views towards America, despite the enmity between the Iranian and U.S. governments.  However, increasingly broad economic sanctions risk creating significant backlash against the United States among Iranians and increased support for resistance against pressure. A 2013 Gallup poll finds that 83% of Iranians now say sanctions had personally hurt their livelihood “somewhat” or “a great deal,” and a strong plurality, 47%, said they hold the U.S. “most responsible” for those sanctions.
  • Additional sanctions — at this time especially — would send precisely the wrong message to Iranian citizens, punishing them rather than encouraging them for voting in their recent presidential election, in which millions put aside their fears and skepticism to voice their support for moderation over extremism.
  • Brookings Institution’s Suzanne Maloney, testifying before the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, warned the House not to move forward with passing H.R.850 for this reason. “The next step should be at the negotiating table, it should not be in this building because I think if there’s intensification of sanctions, Iranians themselves will read it as directed at their own action [in the recent election], and they, I will tell you, do not appreciate the sanctions.”

Recent Developments

  • H.R.850 has already been signed by many members of the House of Representatives (369 Representatives as of July 11), and it could pass in the House within weeks.
  • AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) sent a letter to the President – which was circulated within the House Foreign Affairs Committee and signed by the Committee’s Chairman, Ranking Member, and many other Representatives on the Committee – urging the President to implement additional sanctions on Iran and to strengthen existing ones.
  • Representatives Charlie Dent (R-PA) and David Price (D-NC) are circulating a bipartisan letter in the House of Representatives calling on President Obama to reinvigorate diplomacy and avoid any provocative actions that could jeopardize “the potential opportunity presented by Iran’s recent presidential election.” The letter also urges that “bilateral and multilateral sanctions must be calibrated in such a way that they induce significant and verifiable concessions from Iran at the negotiating table in exchange for their potential relaxation.”
  • Two other Representatives, Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jim McDermott (D-WA), recently published an op-ed in Politico in which they argue that “reinvigorated diplomatic engagement remains the best option to achieve two goals that are critical for U.S. interests in the Middle East: preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and preventing a military strike against the country that could escalate to a wider war.” Their article further urges a halting of additional sanctions, warning that “it would be a mistake to impose new sanctions on Iran before giving Rouhani the chance to put his words into action.”

NIAC’s Action to Block H.R.850 from Becoming Law

  • NIAC wrote an organizational letter, which 22 of our coalition partners signed with us, that was sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the HFAC, SFRC, and SBC. The letter strongly urges Congress to “withhold further consideration of Iran sanctions legislation, including H.R.850 in the House of Representatives.” It specifically expresses to Congress the NGOs’ collective concerns that H.R.850 would “likely worsen shortages of humanitarian goods inside Iran, including life-saving medicine,” and would also preempt Obama’s ability to take advantage of this potential “opportunity for diplomatic progress” by restricting his ability to “ease [sanctions] at the negotiating table in exchange for verifiable Iranian concessions.”
  • NIAC held a briefing on Capitol Hill on Monday, June 24 to educate policymakers on the implications of Rouhani’s election and the potential opportunities it has created for progress in diplomacy and human rights.
  • NIAC is reaching out to policymakers on Capitol Hill directly, holding meetings with them to explain the present situation in Iran and to encourage them to advocate for peaceful, diplomatic policies as they debate and vote on legislative action related to Iran.
  • NIAC has written a letter to Obama to be signed by constituents, which we encourage you to sign here, to encourage him to pursue positive diplomacy, support human rights, and address the humanitarian impact of sanctions.

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