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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

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.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid