News : Sanctions
- Published: Thursday, 12 May 2016
By INU Staff
INU - In April, the Obama White House announced that the Department of Energy would be spending 8.6 million dollars to buy 32 tons of heavy water from Iran. The substance, a byproduct of nuclear reactions, has research and medical applications but can also be used in the production of enriched plutonium. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran is required to maintain only very low stockpiles of heavy water and low-enriched uranium, but it has apparently struggled to find a buyer for the heavy water, thereby leading to the US Energy Department stepping in.
But that move has been a considerable source of controversy among American policymakers. Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton repeatedly described it as an instance of taxpayer money being used to directly subsidize the Iranian nuclear program. As a result, he quickly responded to the announcement by adding an amendment to the Energy Department’s budget which would have prevented it from making similar purchases from the Islamic Republic in the future.
However, this amendment was defeated on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. Some detractors described it as a “poison pill,” which would lead to a presidential veto and needlessly slow down the process of allocating funds to government departments.
On the other hand, the defeat was achieved by a very narrow margin, and in fact Cotton’s amendment had the support of the majority of the Senate, yet fell three votes short of the 60-vote majority required to overcome congressional filibuster rules. Such margins reflect the more general difficulties that the Obama administration’s overall Iran policies have faced in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Last autumn, a resolution of disapproval of the JCPOA was similarly defeated by relying on filibuster rules to allow the Democratic minority to overcome opposition by the entirety of the Republican Party plus a handful of dissenting Democrats. A recurring issue in all this has been Cotton’s notion that the agreement and its broader context stands to provide financing to a country that is regarded as the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, and that is widely suspected of coveting a nuclear weapon.
Consequently, many congressmen have been harshly critical of the Obama administration’s apparent efforts to bolster the nuclear deal by encouraging Western investment in the Islamic Republic. These efforts were highlighted once again by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, in an article detailing some of Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest comments on the status of European reentry into the Iranian market.
That reentry has in many respects been slow-going, and Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have been keen to blame the US for supposedly standing in the way of international banks granting Iran renewed access to global transactions. Despite the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions, the US maintains some sanctions on Iran’s support of terrorism and its violations of human rights, and it is possible that Western businesses could be subject to fines and assets seizure if they fall afoul of these sanctions.
However, Kerry said on Tuesday that European companies are free to invest in Iran as long as they do not form business partnerships with specific entities that are under explicit US sanction. But some critics and experts on Iran argue that it is difficult if not impossible to fully isolate these entities from international transactions, since the hardline Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its affiliates control the vast majority of the Iranian economy.
There are signs that Secretary Kerry may recognize the validity of critics’ concerns about enrichment of the Islamic Republic in general. Such recognition might explain his efforts to downplay the amount of money that Iran has received or might receive from unfrozen assets and new transactions with the international community. Some have estimated that figure at upwards of 150 billion dollars, but Kerry has emphasized that the Treasury Department considers it to be only 55 billion.
In addition, Kerry claimed in April that Iran had only directly received three billion dollars’ worth of assets to date. But on Wednesday, a Washington Post fact-checker looked into this claim and found no data to substantiate it. The article went on to say that Kerry’s focus on 55 billion dollars in unfrozen assets misses the point that the most serious concerns about the effects of the Iran nuclear deal relate to Iran’s prospective reentry into the international banking system – something that figures like Tom Cotton have accused the Obama administration of attempting to facilitate.