News / Middle East

    Column: Obama has Ample Authority to Relieve Iran Sanctions

    European foreign policy chief Catherine, Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, wait for the start of closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, June 17, 2014
    European foreign policy chief Catherine, Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, wait for the start of closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, June 17, 2014
    As negotiations with Iran enter the home stretch this week in Vienna, the ability of the U.S. government to relieve economic sanctions on Iran is likely to emerge as a major factor in determining whether Tehran will accept significant restrictions on its nuclear program.
     
    According to a new paper by Kenneth Katzman, an Iran expert at the Congressional Research Service, President Barack Obama has ample authority to satisfy Iran’s demands through the use of waivers and the expiration in 2016 of the only piece of US sanctions legislation that has a “sunset” clause, the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA).
     
    Katzman, speaking Monday at the Atlantic Council, said that US administrations “have a tremendous amount of discretion” when it comes to applying sanctions because of the primacy given to the executive branch in the U.S. Constitution for conducting foreign policy.

    Thus Obama can waive the sanctions which are of greatest concern to Iran – so-called secondary sanctions that threaten foreign companies that do business with Iran with exclusion from the U.S. market.

    Congress, Katzman notes, does not get an “up or down” vote on presidential waivers.
     
    While Iran has been subjected to U.S. sanctions since the 1979 hostage crisis, the really crippling multinational penalties came only under the Obama administration, after Iran restarted and accelerated a program to enrich uranium.

    Sanctions run deep

    The most biting sanctions were imposed following passage of United Nations Security Council resolution 1929 in June, 2010. Congress passed laws such as the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions,

    Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA), which threatened foreign banks that did transactions with sanctioned Iranian banks with losing their U.S. business.

    That action – coupled with later expulsion of Iran from SWIFT, the Europe-based organization that regulates electronic financial messaging – effectively isolated Iran from the international banking system.
     
    However, the U.S. president can waive those sanctions by instructing the secretary of the Treasury to write a report to Congressional committees asserting that the action is in U.S. national interests.

    Similarly, the White House can stop applying the Fiscal 2012 National Defense Defense Authorization Act – which obliged foreign buyers of Iranian oil to significantly reduce their purchases of crude – for unlimited increments of 120 days by asserting that the waivers are “in the national security interest of the United States.”
     
    Katzman, writing and speaking in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the U.S. government, envisions a process by which the Obama administration waives these key sanctions – assuming a nuclear deal is reached – for the next two years until the ISA sunsets.

    That bill – first passed in 1996 and repeatedly renewed – is the only piece of sanctions legislation that has a scheduled expiration date, according to Katzman. It is due to expire on Dec. 31, 2016 – a month before Obama leaves office and sufficient time following a possible nuclear agreement to test Iranian compliance.
     
    The end of ISA would reopen Iran to foreign investment in its oil and gas sector, enabling the Islamic Republic to boost production and exports, which have been reduced substantially in recent years.

    Congress, of course, could try to extend the law but face a presidential veto that would be difficult to overcome.

    Other sanctions
     
    Other sanctions on Iran – related to its human rights record and support for groups on the U.S. State Department’s terrorist list – would remain in place. Congress has shown an inclination to try to pile on more sanctions even while negotiations are proceeding.

    So far, however, the Obama administration has managed to hold Congress at bay.

    As to concerns expressed by Iranians that U.S. policy toward Iran – which now includes new tentative talks on dealing with the Iraq crisis – will be radically changed by a new administration, Katzman notes that agreements reached in one administration are generally binding on another.

    Examples include the strategic framework agreement signed with Iraq under the Bush administration in 2008.
     
    Sanctions that prohibit U.S. companies from doing business with Iran – except for food, medicine and other humanitarian items – are likely to remain in place for some time.

    But foreign subsidiaries of big U.S. multinationals could re-enter the Iranian market under the scenario envisioned by Katzman.
     
    Cornelius Adebahr, a Europe expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says he believes European firms will readily return to Iran if a long-term nuclear agreement is reached and they no longer face the threat of U.S. sanctions.

    Trade delegations from France, Austria and a number of other European countries have visited Iran since the conclusion last fall of an interim nuclear deal but no big contracts have been signed.  
     
    Iran is also looking for the release of some $100 billion in oil revenues currently locked up in foreign accounts as well as fresh investment and exports. For Europe to lift its own extensive web of sanctions, however, action must be synchronized with the United States.
     
    “There is hardly any European company that would invest in or trade with Iran that does not at the same time have an interest in the U.S. market,” Adebahr wrote in companion paper to Katzman's analysis.

    “That is why European firms would not do business with Iran as long as the specter of liability looms over their activities in the United States,” Adebahr wrote.

    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Probe Targeting China's Statistic Head Sparks Concern

    Economists now asking what prompted government to launch an investigation only months after Wang Baoan had been vetted for crucial job

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.