No, Obama Won’t Consider Snapback Sanctions on Iran

The second in our series expanding on questions raised by Iran deal opponent Robert Satloff considers his sixth question.

6. In your letter to Congressman Nadler, you also said you “reserved the right to deploy new sanctions to address continuing concerns.” Can you spell out what sort of new sanctions you have in mind? Specifically, wouldn’t it make sense for you to ask Congress to articulate new sanctions now that would come into effect if our intelligence agencies reported that Iran was using its sanctions-relief windfall to transfer large sums (or expensive weapons systems) to its allies and terrorist proxies?

It would be enlightening if the President were to answer this question, because he has in fact run in the opposite direction.  He sent letters to foreign companies promising them that they won’t fall under new US sanctions if they do business with Iran.  His administration has repeatedly urged Congress not to extend the existing Iran sanctions, nor to draft new ones of the type Satloff proposes.

The answer appears to be that the President believes the United States already cannot legally impose new sanctions.  This is because the President did not wait for Congress to act before getting the United Nations Security Council to approve the deal.  The text of the UN Security Council Ruling is not the same as the text of the Iran deal itself.  It includes implementation instructions that are theoretically binding under international law.  Annex A, Paragraph 26 of the ruling commits the United States government not to impose any new sanctions.

The United States will make best efforts in good faith to sustain this JCPOA and to prevent interference with the realisation of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting specified in Annex II. The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions specified in Annex II that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA, without prejudice to the dispute resolution process provided for under this JCPOA. The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.

The administration considers the real binding of this deal to have come already.  They do not consider this a treaty that requires a 2/3rds Senate majority as required by the US Constitution’s Article II, Section 2.  They consider it an executive agreement between the P5+1 powers that has already been enacted into international law by the Security Council at the United Nations.  Thus, this paragraph’s instructions to the United States are already binding in the administration’s internationalist point of view.

What these instructions obligates the administration to do is just what it is doing:  taking steps to ensure that the sanctions waived by the JCPOA are not re-imposed.  This explains the promises to international firms that they shall not be reimposed and also the discouragement of Congress from considering appropriate ‘snapback’ sanctions to put into place in case of Iranian violations.

The President has grown accustomed to acting without Congress, imposing his will domestically ‘by pen and phone.’  What we see here is that he has also ceased to regard the Congress as having legitimate authority to bind him when it comes to international affairs.  He is plainly more concerned with the limitations imposed on him by the United Nations’ Annex A, Paragraph 26 than he is with the limitations imposed by the United States Constitution’s Article II, Section 2.

Of course, he can’t admit that out loud.  Satloff’s question is likely to go unanswered.