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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs