FDD:Biden squanders leverage Trump stockpiled on Iran in pursuit of a defective nuclear deal/Biden Administration Should Not Provide Sanctions Relief for Terrorism موقع الدفاع عن الديموقراطية: مقالات تبين حقد بايدن على ترامب ومحاولاته الغبية لإسترضاء ملالي إيران الإرهابيين والعودة إلى الإتفاق النووي العار معهم ومطالبات له عدم تخفيف أو رفع العقوبات عن دول ومنظمات الإرهاب
Biden squanders leverage Trump stockpiled on Iran in pursuit of a defective nuclear deal موقع ثنك: من أجل االعودة إلى اتفاق نووي معيب مع إيران يضرب بايدن كل ما كدسه ترامب من انجازات في مواجهة نظام الملالي الإرهابي Mark Dubowitz and Behnam Ben Taleblu/Think/February 23/2021
Biden Administration Should Not Provide Sanctions Relief for Terrorism مؤسسة الدفاع عن الديموقراطية: لا يجب على إدارة بايدن تخفيف العقوبات على جماعات ودول الإرهاب Matthew Zweig, Alireza Nader , Richard Goldberg/FDD/February 23/2021
As President Joe Biden looks to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is likely to pressure the Biden administration to provide broad sanctions relief, including to entities targeted since 2015 for financing terrorism. The new administration and its supporters should resist such pressure and keep U.S. terrorism sanctions in place – particularly those targeting the Central Bank of Iran (CBI).
One of the JCPOA’s core weaknesses was that it imposed temporary, reversible restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in return for permanent, comprehensive sanctions relief. The Biden administration should not make the same mistake; undermining the global terrorism sanctions regime in order to achieve a temporary, reversible agreement with the Iranians is not a price the United States should be willing to pay.
Iran’s Well-Documented History of Terrorism
Iran has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and is currently labeled by the State Department as “the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism.” This designation derives from Iran’s long history of providing financial and material support to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and others, collectively responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans.
Iranian financial institutions, including the CBI, have played a key role in these activities. The CBI has long been identified as the principal Iranian government entity responsible for providing funding to terrorist organizations. In 2006, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice labeled Iran “the central banker of terrorism.” In 2007, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory on the Iranian financial system, reminding financial institutions about U.S. sanctions applied to Iranian government-owned banks and other entities owing to their links to terrorist activity and proliferation. Subsequent designations by the U.S. Treasury Department noted the role of the CBI in financing terrorism.
In November 2011, under the Obama administration, FinCEN published a draft rule designating Iran as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern, based on the fact that “Iranian financial institutions, including the Central Bank of Iran … and other state-controlled entities, willingly engage in deceptive practices to disguise illicit conduct” such as support for proliferation and terrorism. While not binding, banks largely complied with the draft rule.
In September 2019, the Trump administration designated the CBI as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order (EO) 13224, for providing “billions of dollars to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), its Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its terrorist proxy, Hizballah.”
In October 2019, FinCEN also issued a new evidentiary finding and a final rule designating Iran as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern and imposing binding restrictions for U.S. banks under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. FinCEN stated that “Iran has developed covert methods for accessing the international financial system and pursuing its malign activities, including misusing banks and exchange houses, operating procurement networks that utilize front or shell companies, exploiting commercial shipping, and masking illicit transactions using senior officials, including those at the Central Bank of Iran.”
Finally, the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018 (HIFPAA) included a provision imposing mandatory sanctions against agencies or instrumentalities of a foreign state that have “provided significant financial support for or to, or significant arms or related materiel to, Hizballah.” Thus, the application of terrorism sanctions against the CBI is at the very least consistent with the mandatory sanctions provided for in HIFPAA.
Divorce Terrorism Sanctions From JCPOA Considerations
Notably, a recent analysis published by the Atlantic Council argued that the Treasury Department’s 2019 designation of the CBI “represented a departure from the practices of past US administrations, which have historically applied such designations only to groups and persons cited for direct participation in terrorism or support for acts of terrorism or Iran-inspired political violence,” whereas “the Trump administration justified its designation policy on the grounds that the sanctioned economic entities were generating the revenue and financial channels with which Iran supported regional factions that have committed acts of terrorism.”
This is a flawed argument. Issued in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, EO 13224 created the SDGT designation and provided expanded legal authorities for the State Department and Treasury Department to target individuals and entities responsible for carrying out terrorist activities. EO 13224 was itself an outgrowth of a terrorism sanctions regime specifically targeting organizations disrupting Middle East peace.
Specifically, it was created as a global authority to target terrorist financiers that accessed the U.S. financial system. In 2019, the EO was expanded to include the application of secondary sanctions on any individuals or entities, including financial institutions, that allow their services to be used by SDGTs. This expansion further increased the risk associated with banking terrorists. As noted above, the CBI’s activities provide ample evidence to justify its designation.
Indeed, in 2017 – while the United States remained a participant in the JCPOA – Congress near-unanimously directed that terrorism sanctions under EO 13224 be imposed on the IRGC and entities connected to it, noting the IRGC’s role as the “arm of the Government of Iran for executing its policy of supporting terrorist and insurgent groups.” The very nature of EO 13224 ensures that this applies to IRGC supporters and facilitators, such as the CBI.
The Atlantic Council analysis states that “Iranian leaders are demanding the lifting of any US sanction that prevents its economic entities from operating freely in the global economy.” As such, the analysis says, the Biden administration might have to “justify de-listing all Iranian economic entities—even those with terrorism designations—on the grounds that the de-listing is a necessary sacrifice for the broader objective of ensuring that Iran does not become a nuclear weapons state.”
This is a false choice that the Biden administration and Congress should reject. There is no evidence to suggest that Iranian support for terrorist organizations has ceased; effectively creating a list of terror-financing entities exempt from sanctions would undermine the basis of U.S. terrorism sanctions writ large.
In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that “there is nothing inconsistent” between the JCPOA and U.S. terrorism sanctions on the CBI. This view is consistent with a 2018 article co-authored by former Obama administration senior official Ambassador Dennis Ross, arguing “the sanctions relief provided under the JCPOA should not be interpreted as a blanket immunity for Iranian officials, banks and other government instrumentalities to expand their illicit activities. If such a person or entity is found to be connected to the Revolutionary Guard, terrorism, missile proliferation and human rights abuses, it most certainly can and should be subject to sanctions—even if sanctions for that person or entity were initially suspended by the JCPOA.”
Finally, the Atlantic Council analysis stated: “The Trump administration and many of its predecessors have tended to characterize Iran’s support for these groups as support for terrorism or as ‘malign activities.’ However, it can be argued that Iran’s embrace of armed factions represent implementation of a strategic ‘playbook’ to build influence throughout the region and secure its national interests.”
Any attempt by the Biden administration that would directly or indirectly legitimize Iran-sponsored terrorism ignores the grave national security threat such terrorism poses. Tehran continues to aid Iraqi terrorist organizations such as Kataib Hezbollah, Harakat al-Nujaba, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, whose members were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. personnel in Iraq.
Iran also supports Yemen’s Ansar Allah, which has perpetrated repeated attacks on international shipping and aviation. The U.S. State Department has designated the IRGC, Hezbollah, and Hamas as foreign terrorist organizations, and the U.S. Congress has voted time and again to impose sanctions on all three.
It is also important to recall that Democratic and Republican administrations have determined that for over a decade, Tehran has “allowed [al-Qaeda] facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through” Iranian territory, “enabling [al-Qaeda] to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”
The large body of publicly available evidence that the CBI has played key a role in financing terrorism warrants its designation as an SDGT. The Biden administration could significantly, if not fatally, undermine the credibility of U.S. terrorism sanctions if it were to lift or waive terrorism designations against the CBI or other Iranian entities based on a desire to provide Iran JCPOA-related sanctions relief, rather than based on evidence that those entities have verifiably ceased financing or facilitating terrorism.
For the safety and security of all Americans, there should be no “tradeoff” when it comes to terrorism directed, sponsored, and/or supported by Iran and a limited, temporary, and flawed nuclear agreement with Tehran.
**Matthew Zweig and Alireza Nader are senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor. They all contribute to FDD’s Iran Program and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Matthew, Alireza, Richard, the Iran Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow the authors on Twitter @MatthewZweig1 and @AlirezaNader and @rich_goldberg. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.
Biden squanders leverage Trump stockpiled on Iran in pursuit of a defective nuclear deal موقع ثنك: من أجل االعودة إلى اتفاق نووي معيب مع إيران يضرب بايدن كل ما كدسه ترامب من انجازات في مواجهة نظام الملالي الإرهابي By Mark Dubowitz and Behnam Ben Taleblu/Think/February 23/2021
The administration’s strategy for getting Iran to play ball clearly involves making upfront concessions to Tehran for nothing in return.
“We’re not going to prejudge.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price deployed this classic Washington euphemism last week to avoid responding to a question over how much culpability Iran and its Shiite militias bear for recent rocket attacks against a U.S. military base in northern Iraq. The strikes killed one contractor and wounded several other service persons, including Americans.
Twice since then, rockets have been fired at positions affiliated with the U.S. presence in Iraq: a military base on Saturday and at the area around the U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad on Monday. These strikes are not new. Since May 2019, Iran-backed militias have been behind at least 83 such strikes on U.S. positions, a damning pattern consistent with almost two decades of Iran-linked attacks against the U.S. in Iraq.
The administration’s refusal to directly call out this time-tested method of Iranian escalation also follows its public unwillingness to blame Hezbollah — Iran’s most deadly proxy group — when condemning the assassination of Lokman Slim, a prominent anti-Hezbollah activist, in an attack in Lebanon this month.
Why is the Biden administration not connecting the dots between the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies — and not doing more to publicly deter this behavior? Is it simply that the new administration is still finding its feet after just one month in office?
Possibly. But there is a better explanation.
President Joe Biden is actively signaling a change in approach from his predecessor. He wants to find a way back into the nuclear deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program that his former boss, Barack Obama, concluded in 2015 only to have Donald Trump abandon in 2018.
The Biden administration’s strategy for getting Iran to play ball clearly involves making upfront concessions to Tehran, including de-linking the nuclear and regional threats it poses. In contrast, Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy was characterized by forthright condemnations and more direct responses to Iran-backed aggression. Team Trump also believed that sanctions relief should occur only in exchange for a wholesale change in behavior by the Islamic Republic that included nullifying its regional threats.
Biden’s approach draws directly from Obama’s playbook: turning a blind eye to regional aggression and offering economic relief to signal support for engagement to get back to the negotiating table. And it’s unfortunate, because the result is sure to be the same as before as well: an overly deferential and defective deal that offers Iran patient pathways to nuclear weapons because its restrictions eventually sunset, while handcuffing Washington from using its most powerful economic punishments and doing nothing to stop the improvement of the clerical regime’s warfighting abilities or that of its proxies.
It’s not just the willingness to overlook Iran’s role in recent attacks in the region that makes this clear. It’s that the Biden administration has done this while going out of its way to tempt Tehran to talk through a policy of unilateral concessions while continuing to declare American interest in renewed nuclear negotiations.
Absent any reciprocity, the Biden administration reversed the Trump administration’s restoration of U.N. penalties on Iran’s military-related procurement and proliferation activity. Moscow and Beijing will now be able to arm Tehran free of international censure and the Islamic Republic’s weapons proliferation activities will face fewer impediments. Also at the U.N., the State Department is easing travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats in New York. The regime in Iran has used its diplomatic personnel and facilities in the past to support terrorism.
Furthermore, the administration signaled that it doesn’t oppose a $5 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Iran. While ostensibly for Covid-19 relief, this windfall will fill the regime’s coffers with little accountability at a time when it’s down to less than $10 billion in foreign exchange reserves. The more cash Iran has on hand means the more it can fund its regional proxies and bolster its missile, military and nuclear programs, regardless of what the IMF money is designated for.
Price did speak of “consequences” for the recent rocket attack, and to be fair, Washington so far has maintained the bulk of the penalties Trump imposed on Iran. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s press release on the attack contained zero mentions of Iran, or any other indication of what type of concrete action would be taken.
Similarly, in Yemen, where Houthi rebels continue to fire drones and missiles at Saudi civilian targets, a recent State Department press release urging the rebels to end their assaults failed to mention Iran despite it providing the rebels with weapons and training. The Biden team even decided to remove the group from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations — another missed opportunity for demanding reciprocity.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before. As the Obama administration courted Tehran for nuclear talks from 2012 to 2015, it restricted its counterterrorism and counternarcotics policies toward the regime’s proxies like Hezbollah. As Politico exposed in 2017, U.S. efforts against Hezbollah lessened as the importance of getting a nuclear deal with Iran grew.
The desire to achieve and maintain the Iran nuclear deal also had other negative regional effects. Some of those in the Obama administration arguing for a more robust Syria policy in support of protestors and against the atrocities of President Bashar al-Assad — Tehran’s man in Damascus — were overridden since targeting his regime would have necessarily aggravated the Islamic Republic.
The Biden administration’s eagerness for diplomacy will likely be read by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as a vulnerability to exploit. And in response, Tehran will do what it has done for decades: intensify its aggression and only back down if presented with no other alternative.
Iran is watching Washington begin to dismantle maximum pressure in favor of “maximum diplomacy.” Absent a willingness to add to or even maintain existing sanctions, as well lacking broader efforts to tackle the clerical regime’s regional threat network, such an approach is indeed possible to prejudge: It will end in failure.