Treasury Official: New Iran Sanctions Legislation Would Risk Int’l Unity

Patrick Goodenough | April 15, 2016 | 4:13am EDT
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Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps cheer a missile launch in July 2012. (AP Photo/IRNA/Mostafa Qotbi, File)

( – Any attempt by Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program would jeopardize international unity, a senior U.S. Treasury Department official said Wednesday.

Acting Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin told a Foundation for Defense of Democracies conference in Washington that the administration already has the necessary authorities in place to respond to Iran’s missile activity and would continue to use those tools “to oppose Iranian actions that threaten our interests.”

“New mandatory non-nuclear sanctions legislation would needlessly risk undermining our unity with international partners,” he said. Szubin cited Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew as saying it was important to ensure sanctions tools remain effective, by not overusing them.

The latest administration caution comes almost two months after Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers the administration would not support new congressional sanctions against Iran over its missile activity, in reference to launches last fall – but added that a further launch would provide “a rationale.”

“I wouldn’t welcome them [new congressional measures] at this moment in time, given the fact that we’ve given them a warning,” he told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on February 24. “If they decide to do another launch then I think there’s a rationale.”

Less than two weeks later, Iran did just that: Over two days the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched a number of missiles, including projectiles which, according to photos publishes in Iranian media, bore Hebrew-language inscriptions on the casing stating that “Israel must be wiped off the earth.”

In response, the administration announced sanctions designations against several entities linked to the missile program.

However, despite Kerry’s and other officials’ assertions that the U.S. has effective unilateral and multilateral tool at its disposal, its effort to respond multilaterally to the launches ran into strong Russian opposition at the U.N. Security Council.

Moscow based its objections largely on the fact that the relevant Security Council resolution adopted last July included language saying that Iran was “called on” not to carry out missile launches – in contrast to an earlier, now-overtaken resolution which said Iran “shall not” launch missiles.

Iran insists its missiles capabilities are defensive, and says the missiles – in line with the Security Council resolution wording – are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

But Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in February described Iran’s missile program as “aggressive,” telling Congress the missiles “are inherently capable of delivering WMD.

Unimpressed with the administration’s response to the missile activity, Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation in the House and Senate, providing for

new sanctions against individuals who knowingly aid the missile program; against entities at least 25 percent owned or controlled by Iranian ballistic missile organizations; and against entities involved in sectors of the Iranian economy that support the missile program.

In his remarks at the FDD conference, Szubin said the department was “clear-eyed about the nature of the threats posed by Iran.”

It would continue to combat those threats, including through the enforcement of existing sanctions and new designations when appropriate.

“As we do so, we always keep in mind that such sanctions are not mere means to punish or vent frustration,” he said. “They’re intended to push Iran towards a shift in policies – on terrorism, regional destabilization, on ballistic missiles and on human rights.”

“We don’t expect to see those shifts overnight,” Szubin added.

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