Having come to the realization that the Trump administration isn't likely to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear deal, a group of US lawmakers led by Republican Senator Bob Corker is looking for ways to encourage the president to renew anti-Iranian sanctions, which are set to expire under the deal. Corker introduced a bill, titled 'Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act' to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee late last month, and has already found bipartisan support among many Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Speaking to Radio Sputnik about the Senate initiative, Dr. Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO promoting conflict prevention, explained that the initiative was not unexpected in light of US officials' record of sharp rhetoric toward Tehran.
"I think the main reason is political, and it goes back to the fact that President Trump, during the campaign season, made a lot of promises about being tough on Iran, and now he has to be seen as delivering on that promise," Vaez said.
"The reality," the analyst noted, "is that President Trump has realized that tearing up the nuclear deal [outright] will isolate the United States and would backfire on US interests," with the other parties to the agreement, including the Europeans, Russia, China, and Iran itself generally satisfied with its provisions.
"Sanctions," the expert recalled, "are obviously always the lowest-hanging fruit, and especially sanctions on Iran, on which there is usually bipartisan agreement in Congress. So that's now the option that's coming to the fore."
At the same time, Dr. Vaez stressed that if the proposed legislation were to pass in its current form, "it would be a violation of the [nuclear] deal. There are some sections of the legislation, like Section 8, for example, which add new conditions to the agreement unilaterally."
Specifically, "Section 8 requires the US president to certify that some of the people that are supposed to be delisted [from sanctions] based on the calendar of the nuclear deal about seven years from now will only be delisted if the president can certify that they have not been engaged in support of terrorism and Iran's ballistic missile program; otherwise the sanctions on these individuals and entities cannot be lifted; that's a unilateral decision by the United States to change one of its own commitments under the nuclear deal."
"Not only would this amount to a violation of the deal – it would set a precedent that could start a process that could eventually unravel the deal," Vaez warned.
"The main point here is: if the legislation passes the way it is, the Iranians will probably go to the Joint Commission [which includes Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany, the UK, the representative of the EU and the US] and ask them to recognize that the US has breached the nuclear deal. That could start a process which could eventually unravel the agreement."
Furthermore, Vaez warned that the collapse of the nuclear deal would greatly increase the danger of open conflict breaking out between the two countries. "Without any doubt, if the nuclear agreement starts eroding, we will see tensions rising. If the nuclear deal collapses entirely, then we will be back in the same spiral of escalation that we experienced in the past," meaning Iran considering the revival of their nuclear program on the one hand, and threats of war from the United States and Israel on the other.
"With more tensions, there are also other possibilities for confrontation. There is so much friction between Iran and the United States these days – in the Persian Gulf, in Yemen." The expert recalled that the channels of communications which existed between the two countries during the previous administration no longer exist.
"Therefore, there is enough room for misunderstandings and miscalculations that could easily spiral out of control and result in conflict," Vaez stressed.
Ultimately, Vaez noted that the Europeans, Russia and China should make clear to Washington that they would not comply to US unilateral sanctions not approved by the Joint commission. "I think that's important at some stage to be clearly communicated to US policymakers – that unless there is a real justification – real reasons for new sanctions, the rest of the international community will not simply fall in line because the US Congress has decided to sanction Iran."