WASHINGTON -- A battle is brewing between President Donald Trump's administration and some of the president's biggest supporters in Congress who are concerned that sanctions to be reimposed on Iran early next month won't be tough enough.
As Trump prepares to reimpose a second batch of Iran sanctions that had been eased under the 2015 nuclear deal, conservative lawmakers and outside advisers have become worried that the administration may break a promise to exert "maximum pressure" on Iran. They are angered by suggestions that measures to be announced Nov. 5 won't include a provision cutting Iran off from a key component of the global financial system.
The self-described Iran hawks are concerned enough that they have drafted legislation that would require the administration to demand that Iran be suspended from the international bank transfer system known as SWIFT.
"The president asked for maximum pressure, not semi-maximum pressure," said Richard Goldberg, a former aide to a Republican senator and senior adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a group that supports punishing Iran with sanctions. "Maximum pressure includes disconnecting Iranian banks from SWIFT."
Trump pledged Thursday to do whatever it takes to pressure Iran to halt what he refers to as its "malign conduct" such as nuclear and missile development and support for terrorism and groups that destabilize the Middle East.
"On Nov. 5th, all U.S. sanctions against Iran lifted by the nuclear deal will be back in full force," he told a gathering at the White House to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 1983 attack on the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which is blamed on Iranian-backed extremists. "And they will be followed up with even more sanctions to address the full range of Iran's malign conduct. We will not allow the world's leading sponsor of terror to develop the world's deadliest weapons. Will not happen."
The Nov. 5 sanctions cover Iran's banking and energy sectors and will reinstate penalties for countries and companies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that do not halt Iranian oil imports. They also could include measures to force Iran out of the bank transfer system.
Despite Trump's tough stance, the hawks are worried about recent comments from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his staff that suggest Iran will be able to stay connected to the system. They are also concerned the administration will back down on its stated zero-tolerance policy for Iranian oil purchases by granting waivers to certain countries and companies that do not fully stop buying it.
Iran-deal supporters, like the other parties to the agreement, argue that pushing Iran out of SWIFT, the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, will lead to the creation of alternative mechanisms that could supplant it as the leading global institution for financial institutions to send and receive information about banking transactions. They also say expulsion will make it harder for Iran to conduct transactions, such as humanitarian purchases, that will still be allowed after Nov. 5.
The debate underscores the challenges the administration faces as it tries to isolate Iran without the full backing of other world powers who remain supportive of the nuclear deal.
The Treasury Department has been coy about its intentions, saying only that Mnuchin and the agency have led "an intense economic pressure campaign against Iran as part of this administration's comprehensive strategy to address the totality of Iran's malign and destabilizing activity, with much more to come."
"[The Treasury Department] has made it very clear that we will continue to cut off bad Iranian actors, including designated banks, from accessing the international financial system in a number of different ways," it said. "We will also take action against those attempting to conduct prohibited transactions with sanctioned Iranian entities regardless of the mechanisms used."
That less-than-categorical position has rallied the hawks around the legislation prepared by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would require the administration to impose sanctions on SWIFT members, including some U.S. banks, should it not suspend Iran on its own.
In August, Cruz, led 16 GOP senators, including Trump Republican allies Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming, in demanding action against the bank transfer system if Iran is not suspended. Congressional aides say they believe support for his proposed legislation will be strong. "The administration's maximum pressure campaign will not succeed if the Islamic Republic remains connected to SWIFT," the senators told Mnuchin.
A Section on 10/28/2018
Print Headline: Hawks fear pressure on Iran will go soft