Iran, Russia Relations Threatened by Aggressive Sanctions

As Congress enters its summer session,  a bill implementing harsher sanctions on Iran and Russia could be on the table. Senate passed these new sanctions by an overwhelming majority in mid-June, but the House has yet to give its approval. The bill, known as the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act, claims to punish Iran for ballistic missile tests and human rights abuses, but these reasons are hypocritical and unjustified.

“The US should clean up its own human rights abuses before imposing sanctions on other countries because of theirs,” said Massachusetts Peace Action Executive Director Cole Harrison.

Under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran agreed to not test any missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Based on this deal, Iran has not broken any resolutions, and they are justified in testing missiles without nuclear capabilities. Thus the United States has no legal backing for penalizing Iran for their recent missile tests.

Aside from Iran, the sanctions bill claims to penalize Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election, but political action should not be taken on these charges until they are conclusively proven by the appointed special council. The bill also targets Russia for its supplying of weapons to the Assad regime, its human rights abuses, and the corrupt privatization of state-owned assets.

The bill also includes a requirement for congressional approval if President Trump wishes to roll back any sanctions, slowing down any potential attempts at improving foreign relations.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson encouraged Congress in June to ensure that the final sanctions package “allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.” The bill, however, is largely supported by both sides of the aisle.

The House has momentarily halted the bill, voicing concerns that it violates a constitutional provision that says bills raising government revenue must originate in the House. To move the bill along, the Senate can pass a correction, the House can introduce their own version of the bill, or the two bodies can go to conference. While the bill has been halted for a technical issue, neither chamber seems to be aware of the threat this bill could pose to foreign relations.

The bill reinforces existing sanctions put into place during the Obama administration in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, adds more sanctions on the Russian economy, and imposes new sanctions on those engaged in cyber activity for the Russian government. As for Iran, the bill imposes sanctions on those involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program and it applies terrorism sanctions to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as enforcing an arms embargo. These changes will only strain international relations and push diplomacy farther out of the picture.