The U.S. Senate has given final approval to an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives last month.
The bill would renew sanctions on Iran for a period of 10 years. White House staff have indicated that President Barack Obama would likely sign such a bill if it passed Congress.
The ISA was first created in 1996 to punish investors in certain sectors of Iran’s economy. While it has already been renewed several times, Tehran had hoped that after the signing of the 2015 JCPOA, or Iran Deal, the largely symbolic bill would not be renewed.
Congress’ passing of the law is intended to demonstrate a firm hand in dealings with Iran, and to provide the President with powers to reinstate sanctions if Tehran violates the agreement. The White House has said that they did not believe the reinstatement was necessary.
The move has provoked sharp words from Tehran, where new sanctions one year after the implementation of the nuclear deal appear insulting. The issue is further complicated by the language of the deal, which prevents the creation of new sanctions but is unclear regarding the renewal of existing ones.
“Iran has proved that it sticks to its international agreements, but it also has appropriate responses for all situations,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi. “The extension of sanctions by the U.S. Congress is a violation of the deal.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini has also said that he believes the sanctions bill is a breach of the JCPOA and threatened “retaliation”.
“If these sanctions are extended, it will surely constitute a violation of the deal and the U.S. should know that the Islamic Republic will definitely react to it,” said Khamenei last week.
The renewal of the bill is likely not, however, a shock to Tehran.
“The Iranians are quite committed to the deal”, said Middle East expert Matthew Mcinnes of the American Enterprise Institute, who said that Tehran was “bluffing”.
“They understood that these types of legislation such as the Iran Sanctions Act, which have been in effect for a long time, these types of things would likely be renewed.”
Three Democratic senators rejected the claim by the Iranian officials that the sanctions would violate the JCPOA.
“Iran is making this up. These problems don’t exist,” said Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Congress, by extending ISA, is not taking any new steps against Iran at all.”
Cardin said the bill simply makes it possible for Congress to “snapback” suspended sanctions if Iran is found to be in violation of the deal.
“The Iranians need to know that there are consequences for their actions. Hopefully, they will change their course of actions,” added Senator Robert Menendez in an interview with The Weekly Standard magazine. “In the absence of that, the United States should not ultimately let them be the veto over what we decide is the appropriate foreign policy.”
While Carden and Menendez both opposed the JCPOA last year, Senator Chris Coons, who supported the deal, has also rejected Iran’s claims of a breach of the deal.
“I am convinced that Congress is well within its rights to extend the Iran Sanctions Act,” he said.
“Iran has always resisted non-nuclear sanctions and tried to tie them into the nuclear deal. That’s not correct….I think it’s completely appropriate that we continue the sanctions architecture.”
The claims of retaliation by Tehran arrived days after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a United Nations nuclear watchdog group, said that Iran had exceeded the deal’s permitted limits of stockpiles of heavy water, a component used in the production of nuclear weapons, for the second time since January. It has also been suggested that Iran may have exceeded its limits of low-enriched uranium and that Iran’s advanced centrifuges may still be active.