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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

U.S. Policy on Iran and the AIPAC Agenda

On May 21, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a major policy address laying out the administration’s strategy on Iran following America’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The United States had joined China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Iran in this July 2015 nuclear deal, which remains in effect between the other parties.

Secretary Pompeo made clear that the United States is no longer interested in a flawed agreement that focuses solely on Iran’s nuclear activity. Rather, the United States seeks a new deal that promises to end all facets of Iran’s illicit behavior, including its regional aggression, support for terrorism and continued threats against U.S. allies. In exchange for such a deal, the United States is prepared to normalize relations with Iran and end sanctions—including primary U.S. sanctions that have prevented American companies from doing virtually all business with Iran.

While it is difficult to imagine such an agreement in the near term, the goals set out in the speech are laudable. And even prior to any new agreement, America must confront Iran’s aggression, strongly support regional allies and prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. To maximize the chance for success, the United States must increase economic, diplomatic and political pressure on Iran.

Iran Must End Its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons, Support for Terrorism

In his address, Secretary Pompeo laid out a series of requirements for Iran. On the nuclear side, he demanded that Iran stop uranium enrichment, forgo plutonium reprocessing, and halt development of nuclear-capable missile systems. These actions would ensure that Iran never acquires an indigenous nuclear weapons capability. To verify compliance, Iran must disclose the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program. New intelligence revealed by Israel demonstrates that Iran has hidden and lied about its nuclear weaponization program. And Iran must provide international inspectors with unqualified access to all sites—including military facilities.

Regionally, Iran must withdraw all forces under its command from Syria and end its support to terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Also, Iran must cease harboring al-Qaeda leaders and end its support for Shia militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Lastly, Iran must release Americans, as well as citizens of other nations, detained on spurious charges, and cease its threatening behavior against its neighbors—including damaging cyberattacks and its threats to destroy Israel.

Increase the Pressure on Iran

To achieve these goals, the administration has announced a strategy of increased economic, political and diplomatic pressure, combined with efforts by the Department of Defense to deter Iranian aggression.

By Nov. 4, 2018, the administration is preparing to reimpose all U.S. sanctions lifted and waived by the JCPOA. This includes sanctions targeting Iran’s petroleum industry and access to the international financial system. The administration has also decided to impose broad secondary sanctions—meaning international businesses will face penalties in the United States if they conduct prohibited business with Iran.

In a June 5 speech, Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker emphasized: “As part of the President’s strategy, we will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. Our powerful economic authorities will give the regime a clear choice: Change its unacceptable support for terrorism, destabilizing activities, and human rights abuses, or face economic calamity.”

Sanctions Enforcement

The administration has made clear it will strictly enforce all U.S. sanctions against Iran. As Secretary Pompeo said on May 21, the United States will listen to the concerns of our allies, but “we will hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account.”

The pace of sanctions enforcement has already increased to levels not seen in recent years. In May alone, the Department of Treasury announced seven new sanctions actions: On May 10, Treasury, in coordination with the United Arab Emirates, took action to disrupt an extensive currency exchange network that supported Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force—the principal Iranian entity in charge of supporting terrorist groups abroad. On May 15, the administration sanctioned the head of the Iranian Central Bank, Valiollah Seif, for his role in orchestrating the transfer of millions of dollars to the IRGC. On May 22, Treasury took action against five Iranian individuals who provided ballistic missile technology to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. And on May 24, nine individuals and entities were targeted for helping sanctioned Iranian airlines procure U.S.-origin goods.

Sanctions Compliance

Companies around the world are already announcing plans to wind down their business with Iran. For virtually all major international businesses, the threat of losing access to the American market and financial system make compliance with U.S. sanctions an imperative. For example, German industrial giant Siemens already announced it would comply with U.S. sanctions. One of the largest German companies trading with Iran, Siemens totaled around $20 billion in U.S. sales last year. By comparison total exports of all German companies to Iran in 2017 were $3.5 billion.

Purchasers of Iranian oil are also preparing to reduce or end their imports. France's Total, Italy's Eni and Saras, Spain's Repsol and Cepsa, and Greece's Hellenic Petroleum are all reportedly preparing to halt purchases of Iranian oil. Indian refiners Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy have also announced plans to comply with U.S. sanctions.

U.S. companies are already preparing to comply with renewed sanctions as well. Boeing announced that it would end plans to sell civilian aircraft to Iran. General Electric, Honeywell and other U.S. firms operating in Iran via foreign subsidiaries have also announced an end to their Iranian business.

The Way Forward

AIPAC is driven by three overarching principles: Iran must never be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapons capability; the United States must work to counter Iran’s dangerous regional ambitions; and the United States must support Israel as it confronts threats from Iran and ensure the Jewish state has the means to defend itself.

In the months ahead, AIPAC will urge the administration and Congress to:

  • Maximize effective economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran. Areas of sanctions focus should include the IRGC, Iran’s financial system, oil imports, ballistic missile testing and arms transfers.

  • Reiterate that the United States has a determined policy to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and to aggressively confront its regional aggression.

  • Enact the bipartisan U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act (H.R. 5141 and S. 2497) to demonstrate America’s long-term support for Israel and encourage the administration to expand and enhance U.S. weapons stockpiles in Israel.

  • Fully fund security assistance to Israel and cooperative missile defense programs.

  • Ensure political support for Israel at the U.N. and beyond if it is forced to deal with aggression from Iran and its proxy forces.

  • Pass and implement legislation to penalize entities and individuals who support the use of human shields by Iranian-backed terrorist groups.

Type: Near-East-Report Near East Report