Ever since John Kerry returned from Geneva with a piece of paper signed by Iran guaranteeing peace in our time, Barack Obama has been under fire for letting the Iranians off the hook. Obama has responded by claiming that his administration will get tough on verification to make sure the Iranians don’t cheat, and if they do, he’ll “snap back” the sanctions and the West will have lost no ground. However, Reuters has discovered that for the last two years the Obama administration has backed off sanctions enforcement — and not because Iran had suddenly became a good global citizen:
Addressing concerns that a landmark nuclear deal reached this year could boost Iran’s military power, the Obama administration reassured critics that it would maintain and enforce its remaining tough sanctions against the country.
Yet the U.S. government has pursued far fewer violations of a long-standing arms embargo against Iran in the past year compared to recent years, according to a review of court records and interviews with two senior officials involved in sanctions enforcement.
The sharp fall in new prosecutions did not reflect fewer attempts by Iran to break the embargo, the officials said. Rather, uncertainty among prosecutors and agents on how the terms of the deal would affect cases made them reluctant to commit already scarce resources with the same vigor as in previous years, the officials said.
The more relaxed enforcement raises questions over how strictly the arms embargo and other remaining sanctions will be applied in future, since the nuclear deal still needs to be implemented and Iran will likely remain sensitive to a tough sanctions regime.
The intent to protect the negotiations was explicit, as one e-mail in June of this year demonstrates:
One email that was sent during the height of the Iran negotiations this past summer indicated that the Obama administration was concerned about how the enforcement of the sanctions might affect the talks.
The email, sent in June 2015 by a US Treasury official to an official in New York’s Department of Financial Services expressed concern over an investigation related to Iran.
“Any actions that are taken in connection with sanctions violations pertaining to Iran may have serious impacts on the ongoing negotiations and U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives,” wrote the official, whose name was redacted in the email.
That seems like a far cry from Obama’s claims about his preparation for tough enforcement. In August, the White House sent a letter from Obama to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), a skeptic of the deal, promising that Obama would be ready to crack down on Iranian violations at the drop of a hat:
While many of the promises have been made before by Mr. Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and others, White House officials say the letter represents the first time that the president himself has compiled them under his name and in writing. It commits explicitly to establishing an office within the State Department to carry out the nuclear accord.
In addition, Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that the letter expanded assurances that sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord could be reimposed piece by piece, not all at once, to keep Iran in compliance. Mr. Obama’s pledge to use the multinational commission policing the accord to block Iranian procurement of nuclear-related technology is new, as is the president’s explicit pledge “to enhance the already intensive joint efforts” of the United States and Israel in the region, said Mr. Schiff, a supporter of the deal.
“Should Iran seek to dash toward a nuclear weapon, all of the options available to the United States — including the military option — will remain available through the life of the deal and beyond,” Mr. Obama wrote.
Based on this track record, one has to wonder whether the Obama administration will recognize these violations when they occur. If they’re willing to forego prosecution of sanctions violations in an attempt to put together this deal, how willing would they be to set off the alarms and scotch the deal, and prove their critics correct? Don’t put money on it in Vegas.
The big news from the UN was the Obama-Zarif handshake backstage during the speeches. It’s a new era of cooperation, which a willful blind eye does so much to facilitate, yes?