U.S. Sanctions Are Back on Iran: Look Who is Protesting in Iran and Why

(Focus Online, August 14, 2018)

As many U.S. sanctions against the Iranian regime kicked back in this past week, the world watched as the people of Iran protested across the country. They were not protesting U.S. sanctions; they were calling for reform and accountability of their own government. Instead of “Death to America,” they shouted “Death to Inflation,” and “Death to Unemployment.” They were protesting the dire economic conditions in Iran, which they have endured for decades, while their leaders diverted the nation’s resources to finance terrorism, fuel the civil war in Syria (and migration flows to Europe) and develop ballistic missiles that threaten the entire region.

The United States, like our European partners, condemns these activities. And the United States is putting action behind our words. Through robust enforcement of our sanctions, we aim to exert unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian government to bring it back to the negotiating table to address these pressing security concerns. Because the JCPOA wasn’t a treaty, President Trump could announce that the United States was withdrawing from it and would reimpose nuclear-related sanctions. August 6 was a significant step in that process, marking the end of the 90-day wind down period for certain transactions with Iran. The remaining nuclear-related sanctions will be reimposed November 5, specifically targeting Iran’s oil sector. The Iranian regime has exploited this natural resource – which belongs to the Iranian people — not to invest in their development, but to threaten its neighbors, undermine the stability of the Middle East and Europe, and to enrich its own leaders.

In addition to targeting the petroleum sector, the United States will also reimpose secondary sanctions on Iran’s financial sector, including by targeting certain transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran. Under the guise of legitimate business activity, Iran’s senior officials have used the Central Bank as a cover for transactions to support terrorist organizations such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, Hizballah, – U.S. and EU- sanctioned groups that have fomented violence, instability, and displacement in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza, and Yemen. In its attempt to covertly move money, the Iranian regime undermines the integrity of the international financial system, including banks across Europe. The recent exposure of a Qods Force-affiliated counterfeiting ring – a scheme designed to support its destabilizing activities in Yemen – underscores the regime’s willingness to deceive German suppliers and circumvent European export control laws to advance its illicit activity. We were pleased that the German Bundesbank saw the risk posed by Iran’s suspicious financial activity and recently tightened its rules to prevent a massive flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash into the regime’s coffers.

This type of action is exactly the cooperative effort that is needed to send Iran a clear message that the United States and its allies around the world remain united. We will take action to protect our security and harden our financial systems against Iran’s destabilizing activity. The United States and Europe share common security concerns when it comes to Iran, and the United States will take action to protect our collective security and harden our financial system’s actions against Iran’s destabilizing activity. While governments have a role to play in ensuring adequate safeguards are in place to detect and disrupt suspicious financial activity, the private sector is playing its part by walking away from projects that malign actors in Iran seek to misuse to finance their nefarious activities. German businesses are making the right choice, seeking other, larger and more stable markets and retaining access to the U.S. financial system. We are proud that the U.S. banking sector plays such a critical role in facilitating global commerce. But, it is not open to those who choose business with Iran over compliance with our sanctions. Our sanctions policy is effective precisely because it ensures that those with access to the U.S. financial system operate with integrity and transparency – values we share with our European partners.

As anyone contemplating continued business with Iran must understand, the Iranian regime not only fuels regional violence through terrorism, its missile programs, and other destabilizing activity, it exploits and suppresses its own people and has a track record of human rights abuses. We also know political prisoners are routinely jailed without just cause and subject to torture. The United States has called out this activity and taken action, designating just a few months ago numerous human rights abusers and the notorious Evin Prison itself.

Iranians taking to the streets in protest against their own government are doing so at risk to their own lives, and that of their families. As these courageous men and women seek to hold their government accountable, we ask our allies and partners around the world to join us and them, in this noble endeavor.