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Sanctions and countering Iran’s destabilizing activities

New legislation, which the US Senate passed almost unanimously by a 98-2 vote, will see new sanctions imposed on Iran. The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities bill was bipartisan, co-authored by the Senate Foreign Committee Chairman Bob Corker (Tennessee Republican), ranking member Ben Cardin (Maryland Democrat), as well as the New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who is also a Democrat.

This action highlights bipartisan unity and shows significant consensus between the Democrats and Republicans in Washington. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said: “Iran is still the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world... They are supporting groups that have toppled pro-Western governments throughout the Middle East. They have humiliated and unlawfully imprisoned American sailors on the high seas. And they continuously and flagrantly violate UN restrictions on their missile program.”

To become a law, the legislation must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by President Donald Trump.

Iranian leaders are enraged — arguing the sanctions violate the nuclear deal reached between the six world powers (known as P5+1) and Tehran. Iran’s state news agency reported that Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, explained that “the US Senate’s move is unquestionably in breach of both the spirit and the letter of the nuclear deal.” He added: “The Iranian committee tasked with monitoring the accord will certainly examine the congressional move and come up with a decent response.”

Firstly, the claims of Iranian leaders regarding the sanctions violating the nuclear deal are inaccurate. Although Iranian leaders intend to proceed with their ballistic missile program, they continue to receive the benefits of the nuclear agreement.

In reality the sanctions do not target the nuclear agreement. There is no article in the nuclear deal stating that Iran has the right to advance or launch ballistic missiles, and that the US cannot impose penalties or unilateral sanctions on Iran for violating the UN resolution and international law regarding ballistic activities.

The UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (Section 3 of Annex B) “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” The UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was developed from the UNSC Resolution 1929 which stated: “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that states shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities.”

In fact, if there is any party that is violating the nuclear agreement, that would be Tehran. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) (UNSCR 2231 Annex II, Paragraph 3) states, that Iran should not undertake any ballistic missiles activity “until the date eight years after the JCPOA adoption day or until the date on which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submits a report confirming the broader conclusion, whichever is earlier.”

The US Senate recently passed a new bill imposing further sanctions on Iran for constantly disregarding the nuclear deal. It received almost unanimous backing. But will Tehran finally put an end to its defiance?

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Iran has repeatedly test-fired, long-range ballistic missiles and laser-guided surface-to-surface missiles. This trend has escalated, specifically after the nuclear agreement was reached. Iran became emboldened and empowered to repeatedly test new ballistic missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani previously boasted about it when he said: “We will have a new ballistic missile test in the near future that will be a thorn in the eyes of our enemies.”

In addition to its nuclear program, the second most important program of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is its ballistic missile program. Iran views its ballistic capability as a critical pillar of Tehran’s national security policy. Missiles can be used as a vehicle to carry nuclear warheads and weapons. Iran surpasses Israel by having the largest ballistic missile program in the Middle East. Iran’s missiles can reach any country in the Middle East according to Iranian officials. Iran is attempting to build intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) which can reach Europe and beyond.

The significance of these sanctions is that they not only target Iran’s individuals and entities, that are involved in developing the ballistic missile program, but also foreign financial institutions or any foreign company that provides assistance or parts to Iran.

As several senators suggested, Iran’s aggressions and destabilizing behavior have significantly increased since the nuclear agreement was reached. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: “It truly is astounding what Iran continues to do around the world... For a people that are capable of so much, their foreign policy is shockingly counter to their own interest... We see destabilizing act after destabilizing act — from missile launches, to arms transfers, to terrorist training, to illicit financial activities, to targeting US Navy ships and detaining American citizens — the list goes on and on. And it’s past time for us to take steps to protect the interests of the United States and our allies.”

These sanctions are critical to start a new phase in containing Iran’s ballistic activities, destabilizing behavior, and pursuit for regional hegemony. It also sent a robust message to Tehran, that Iran’s violations of international law will not be totally disregarded anymore; there will be consequences. It is worth noting that this does not mean that Iran will stop test firing ballistic missiles, pursuing expansionist policies, and advancing its program covertly or overtly.

Although Iranian leaders are threatening to abandon the nuclear agreement, it is not likely to pull out of the agreement. This is due to Iran being the sole beneficiary of the agreement, and Khamenei and the IRGC want to continue receiving the financial benefits of the nuclear deal.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.