President Trump’s recent surprising and unequivocal statement regarding the Iran nuclear deal amounts to an ultimatum to America’s European allies as well as members of Congress that unless very specific and clear improvements are made, the White House will withdraw the U.S. from the agreement this May. The question is whether they will take the president’s threat seriously.
Ironically, when the nuclear deal was negotiated by the Obama administration it was the Europeans who wanted to drive a harder bargain with Tehran and the U.S. negotiating team who made repeated concessions. That sad spectacle undercut America’s reputation as a bulwark against Iranian aggression and instead marked a period when the U.S. did nothing to slow Iran’s brutal, sometimes genocidal support of the Assad regime in Syria and aided Tehran’s consolidation of control in Iraq.
Since then, Mr. Trump has loudly denounced the nuclear deal but nonetheless twice waived sanctions against the Iranian regime. For the last year, the Trump administration even continued the Obama administration policy of non-confrontation with Iran and Russia in Syria. American credibility on Iran is in very short supply.
For the Trump administration to overcome years of drift and appeasement and demonstrate the president’s genuine resolve to make progress before the May deadline, he will need to lead by example. The new sanctions he also announced were a good start, but he can take more significant actions using his own authority as president to signal his seriousness while simultaneously degrading Iran’s international terror capabilities.
The president said America’s allies “should not do business with groups that enrich Iran’s dictatorship or fund the Revolutionary Guard and its terrorist proxies.” Yet, the U.S. Treasury Department currently holds license applications by Boeing and Airbus to sell more than $44 billion in brand new aircraft and aircraft parts to Iranian commercial airlines, which the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has often used to smuggle terrorists and weapons components across the Middle East.
Iran Air still expects to purchase 60 new aircraft from Boeing, despite the fact the airline was used to smuggle more than a thousand components for Improvised Explosive Devices targeted at American troops in Iraq. Neither the Europeans, who own Airbus, nor the Iranians will take the administration’s rhetoric seriously if the Boeing and Airbus deals are still allowed to go forward. President Trump needs to, once and for all, order the Treasury Department to reject those license applications.
The president also used his recent statement to call on our allies to “cut off funding” for the IRGC. The IRGC depends on oil and natural gas revenues paid in, or converted into, U.S. dollars to fund terrorism and is therefore indirectly dependent on the financial clearing house system based in the U.S. and tied to the Federal Reserve. Cut off access to the system and terrorist funding begins to dry up.
Although several key Iranian banks were removed from U.S. sanctions lists as part of the nuclear deal, this was nominally due to the fact that they had been designated as “proliferators of weapons of mass destruction,” not for terrorism. Iran’s Bank Saderat, for example, remained on the U.S. sanctions lists even after the nuclear deal because it had been designated for its role in funneling money to Hezbollah.
Bank Melli, Iran’s largest state-owned bank, is a prime example of a designated proliferator removed from U.S. sanctions lists under the Nuclear Deal but with deep ties to Iranian terrorism. The Treasury Department has previously reported that Bank Melli funneled at least $100 million to the IRGC’s Qods Force, which itself was sanctioned by the U.S. for “supporting Hezbollah’s military, paramilitary, and terrorist activities, providing it with guidance, funding, weapons, intelligence, and logistical support.”
In short, while Mr. Trump cannot sanction Bank Melli for proliferation activities, he could and should designate the bank as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist immediately for its documented support for terrorism directed not only at our allies in the Middle East, but at Americans themselves.
As an attorney who represents the families of hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women killed and maimed in Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq, I have seen first-hand how the IRGC has used its access to the U.S. financial system to finance attacks on Americans and spread death and destruction across the Middle East. Disrupting the IRGC’s financial and supply networks would help repair American credibility and significantly increase America’s long-term security.
The president has rightly observed the Iran Deal provided Iran with a “slush fund for weapons, terror, and oppression.” It won’t be easy to undo the damage caused by it, but President Trump has clearly stated his determination to try. To be successful, he needs to start by backing up his powerful words with concrete actions of his own.
• Gary Osen is a partner at Osen LLC specializing in Anti-Terrorism Act cases.
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