The Iran nuclear deal lives to see another day—but President Trump continues to express deep reservations regarding the agreement.
Iran Nuclear Deal Certification
On Monday, the Trump Administration reportedly certified Iran’s compliance with its nuclear-related obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement, as required under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). As we previously have noted, the INARA requires the President to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with its nuclear obligations under the JCPOA. If the President fails to make the certification or advises Congress that Iran has materially breached its obligations, then the statute provides for expedited congressional consideration of legislation re-imposing sanctions.
According to reports, the President was strongly opposed to issuing the certification, and continues to press his administration to take a hard line towards Iran. Reportedly, during an hour-long meeting with senior administration officials last week—including Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.—the President spent 55 minutes telling the officials that he did not want to make the certification. It was only after another round of meetings that the President finally relented, agreeing to make the certification late Monday evening but pressing officials to deliver results regarding Iran’s behavior.
This kerfuffle is similar to the recertification saga last quarter, when Secretary Tillerson certified Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, but announced that the Trump Administration was initiating a review of sanctions relief under the JCPOA. Reportedly, President Trump personally intervened after reviewing a draft of Tillerson’s letter, and instructed Secretary Tillerson to toughen the tone of the letter.
It should be noted that Monday’s certification letter to Congress has not been made public as of this time, and may not be made public at all. The publication of the letter in April seems to have been intended to signal the Administration’s displeasure with the JCPOA, but there does not seem to be any such clear messaging this time around.
On a related note, there are reports indicating that the latest round of presidential waivers under nuclear sanctions statutes is due today. Sanctions waiver deadlines are notoriously difficult to pin down with precision, but as we previously have reported, the deadlines would seem to fall around this time. It would be reasonable to expect that the Administration will issue the waivers quietly.
Overall, it seems clear the President Trump remains deeply displeased with Iran’s actions, and that he is skeptical of the JCPOA. The President frequently described the deal as a “disaster” on the campaign trail, but notably, he seemed not to ever explicitly promise to repudiate the deal, explaining that “[w]e have a horrible contract, but we do have a contract.” The Trump Administration’s review of the JCPOA, which reportedly will be concluded before the next INARA certification is due in October, warrants close attention.
In an action likely timed to coincide with the INARA certification, on Tuesday the Trump Administration announced that it was designating 18 individuals and entities, under non-nuclear sanctions, based on their connections to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran-based transnational criminal networks. The designated persons have been listed as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) by the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), meaning that all U.S. persons worldwide must freeze their assets and refrain from all transactions and dealing with them. Additionally, with regard to Iran-based SDNs in particular, non-U.S. persons are restricted from dealing with such SDNs under the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act.
The designations included the following:
- Rayan Roshd Afzar Company and related individuals: This company was involved in procuring technology for the IRGC’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.
- Qeshm Madkandaloo Shipbuilding Cooperative Company / Ramor Group / related individuals: Qeshm Madkandaloo, based in Iran, and Ramor Group, based in Iran, were involved in supplying marine equipment to the IRGC Navy.
- Emily Liu / related companies: Ms. Liu, based in China, was involved in procuring electronics for Iran’s Shiraz Electronics Industries, which was designated as an SDN in 2008 based on its involvement in Iran’s military and WMD programs.
- Ajily Software Procurement Group / related individuals: OFAC designated this entity as a transnational criminal organization based on its use of hackers to steal software engineering programs from the United States and other western countries.
- IRGC entities / ballistic missile program: The State Department designated the IRGC Aerospace Force Self Sufficiency Jihad Organization (ASF SSJO) and the IRGC Research and Self Sufficiency Jehad Organization (RSSJO) based on their involvement in Iran’s ballistic missile program. The State Department issued a press release announcing this action.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice announced arrests of two individuals involved with the Ajily Software procurement network, as described in a press release.
While the designations are new, the authorities under which they were made—Executive Order 13382 (targeting WMD proliferators) and Executive Order 13581 (targeting transnational criminal organizations)—are not. It would be reasonable to expect the Trump Administration to continue to make designations under existing non-nuclear sanctions authorities as a means of continuing to pressure Iran. In particular, IRGC-related designations could impact implementation of the JCPOA, as explained here, here, and here. In addition, legislation targeting the IRGC continues to make its way through Congress, and warrants close attention.