The Trump administration is planning to put more pressure on Iran with terrorism sanctions ahead of the presidential election, The Wall Street Journal reports.
According to sources familiar with plans to sanction Iran, White House officials plan to impose sanctions under counterterrorism authorities, which are considered more challenging to undo.
The Journal reports the move comes as polling indicates that President Donald Trump is trailing behind former Vice President Joe Biden. Officials are fearful that Biden’s plan for handling Iran will undo any attempts to pressure Tehran into signing a new nuclear and security deal. Biden has said he would return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Trump backed out of.
Sources told the Journal that the Trump administration’s plan goes after sectors it believes play a strong role in financing Iran’s terror-linked activities, including the petrochemical and metals industries. The plan specifically highlights Iran’s energy sector.
Even if these areas already fall under existing sanctions, current and former officials say blacklisting them again under terror powers would make it more difficult to reverse the action if Biden becomes president.
“Unwinding some of the designations would be quite difficult,” Kirsten Fontenrose, a former senior director for Gulf Affairs in Trump’s National Security Council, told the Journal.
“A Biden administration would likely roll back a few of the sanctions against Iran as a show of goodwill to Tehran to get them back to the negotiating table,” she said, “but he won’t be able to undo larger movements like designations.”
According to the Journal, counterterrorism sanctions risk harsher penalties for violators. They also deter banks from doing business with them, which could hit Iran’s financial sector.
“Tens of thousands of market actors will have to decide whether they want to do business with Iranian entities connected to terrorism and the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps],” said Mark Dubowitz, who heads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
He noted that terror designations help create a “sanctions wall of political and market deterrence.”
Senior officials say Trump’s sanctions policy plan will publicly detail how Iran’s leaders use the country’s finances and businesses to fund its weapons programs, terrorism proxies such as Hezbollah, and conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
In exposing Iran, former U.S. officials say it will create a liability for banks, investors, and other firms, that can be as harsh as a sanction.
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