Iran to US: honor nuclear deal, or else

Momentum is building in Washington and among Iranian hard-liners to oppose the deal and renew sanctions against Iran. 

Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with a group of members of the paramilitary Basij force in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday. Iran's top leader has warned that renewal of a decades-old sanction on his country will lead to reaction by Tehran.

A week after the US House of Representatives reauthorized a 20-year-old law to renew sanctions against Iran, the country’s supreme leader said any passage of the law by the US Senate and president would lead to a retaliation.

“Definitely, the Islamic Republic of Iran will show a reaction,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to his website. He did not elaborate on the reaction.

While Mr. Khamenei has repeatedly said the United States has violated its end of the one-year-old nuclear deal, the House’s passage of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) last week could herald an official step away from the landmark agreement. It is also a further manifestation of reactions to the deal: While the Obama administration and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani seek to uphold the deal, some members of Congress and Iranian hard-liners have sought to dismantle because, they say, the other side already has violated some of its terms.

The deal reached in July 2015 required Iran cap its nuclear program in exchange for lifting of sanctions against it.

As the Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson reported this past summer, “all sides have strictly adhered to the letter of the deal.”

Iran has dramatically reduced the scale of its nuclear infrastructure – reconfiguring a heavy water nuclear reactor and a deeply buried uranium enrichment facility, for example – while keeping a limited capacity to produce fuel for nuclear energy. And non-nuclear sanctions have been lifted, partially ushering Iran back into the global economy.

The deal is said to have prevented a new US war in the Middle East that, as the Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi wrote, at times, during the past decade, seemed near.

But momentum has been building in the US and Iran to oppose the deal. After the US House reauthorized the ISA, there is widespread support in the Senate, according to the Associated Press. The law was first adopted in 1996 to punish investments in Iran’s energy industry and deter Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. While it must be signed by President Obama to become law, if it were, the act would extend sanctions for another 10 years.

Republicans in Congress have unanimously opposed the agreement. But some Democratic senators who originally supported the deal have shifted their stances as well. In July, they said they support Senate action aimed to “strengthen” the deal and counter Iran’s “aggressive behavior.”

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a critic of the deal, told the Monitor in July that the main reason for opposition is that members of Congress see Iran has been emboldened to act even more aggressively, undertaking controversial ballistic missile testing, for example.

“Yes, the Iranians have given up some nuclear technology and infrastructure – all of which they could easily reconstitute,” said Mr. Dubowitz. “But at the same time they’ve been very smart about doing things to impede the administration from pushing back against Iran’s malign activities.”

That same month, a group of 75 national security leaders released a letter to Mr. Obama that extolled the deal’s accomplishments and called for using the deal to expand engagement with Iran. But opposition within Congress and under a Trump administration could impede that. President-elect Donald Trump has also criticized the nuclear deal.

In response to this building opposition, Khamenei has said the US has violated the deal by “various violations” so far. The Khamenei regime has been warning Iranians not to expect the nuclear deal to last 10 years, Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told the Monitor.

The US House of Representatives also passed a bill last week that would block the sale of commercial aircraft by The Boeing Company and Airbus to Iran.

Still, sanctions relief has already brought benefits to Iran “such as oil production returning to pre-sanctions levels; a boost of trade with the European Union by 22 percent; and $3.5 billion of a foreign direct investment in Iran in the first quarter of 2016 – breaking a decade-long record,” Mr. Peterson reported for the Monitor.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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