President Trump just signed into law HR 3364, the legislation imposing new sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and Russia. The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress. It leaves in place all the existing sanctions on these three countries, while also imposing new ones.
For Iran, the bill imposes additional sanctions aimed at the country’s ballistic missile program and its trafficking in arms sales in Africa and the Middle East. These additional sanctions come on the heels of the early Trump Administration sanctions that were levied six months ago in response to Iran’s January 29, 2017, test launch of ballistic missiles that clearly violated U.N. resolution 2231, which prohibited such ballistic missile tests. The Administration’s actions implement our call for immediate sanctions on Iran for threatening Israel, destabilizing the world, and violating the law – including the Obama Administration’s disastrous Iran nuclear deal.
The threat to Israel cannot be overstated. As we pointed out six months ago, the words “Israel must be destroyed” are etched onto the side of Iran’s missiles. Their intentions are clear – Iran poses a clear and present danger to Israel and the United States.
In addition, this bill imposes severe financial restrictions on senior political leaders in Iran, its Revolutionary Guards Corps, and specific individuals suspected of human rights abuses. It allows the United States to sanction nations or companies that transfer military equipment or missile technology to Iran.
These sanctions are a major step forward and a victory for our own national security and that of our allies.
The sanctions involving North Korea are the most severe yet, as the United States tries to peacefully resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula and stop Kim Jong Un’s progress in further developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs – dangerous programs that reportedly now boast missiles capable of reaching the United States.
The bill expands in a major way U.S. sanctions on any entity that does business with the rogue nation, even if the support of North Korea is indirect. For example, a company that purchases minerals mined in North Korea is subject to sanctions. Any banking institution that provides even indirect financial services to North Korea will be sanctioned. Cargo ships, even if flagged by another country, face sanctions if they are owned or controlled by North Korea. Nations who give any aid to North Korea run the risk of losing any foreign aid they receive from the United States.
In an unprecedented development, this law allows the United States the right to place sanctions on any country who violates the North Korean sanctions imposed by the United Nations. Up until now, United Nations sanctions against North Korea have been routinely ignored and violated by numerous members of that body. While the United Nations may not enforce its own restrictions on North Korea, going forward the United States intends to honor the U.N. resolutions and can sanction those nations who do not.
The sanctions against Russia add to those already in place and are largely financial and aimed at Vladimir Putin and other senior officials at the Kremlin, as well as Russian business entities. They also allow the United States to deny entry and revoke visas for individuals involved in certain activities, such as selling arms to the Syrian government or abusing human rights.
The Russian sanctions are best understood when framed against the visit of Vice President Mike Pence to Europe this week. The key reasons for Russian sanctions are its invasion of Crimea and portions of Eastern Ukraine, its interference in other nations politically and by cyber-attack. In addition HR3364 is aimed at human rights abuses, and Russian threats against the countries who make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Of course, Russia also continues to attack U.S.-backed Syrian rebels and to sow unrest in that entire region, all while unconvincingly claiming to be a partner with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.
The sanctions against Russia are symbolic in large measure. But it is a very large and significant symbol. And it directly impacts some of the wealthiest and most influential people in Russia, including President Putin. They will feel the pinch of financial and travel restrictions.
However, U.S. involvement in NATO and its unflinching commitment to deter Russian aggression in the Balkans and Eastern Europe strikes at the ambition and pride of President Putin in a way that adds additional effect to the sanctions. Further, since the U.S. has become a large exporter of natural gas and has quietly influenced our allies in the Middle East to keep the production of oil at high levels, Europe is becoming less and less dependent on Russian gas and oil. This week Vice President Pence pledged to Ukraine’s president that the U.S. would begin to guarantee their supply of natural gas. The U.S. will also expedite the decision to supply Ukraine with anti-tank weapons and other heavy arms, including anti-aircraft missiles, to counter Russian aggression. Additionally, U.S. commitments to the common defense by NATO members were reinforced by the visit of Vice President Pence.
The sanctions will ultimately work to a certain degree. Vladimir Putin is an agile negotiator and intellectually sophisticated. As a former KGB agent and as head of its successor, the FSB, he excels at risk management. While objecting loudly to U.S. sanctions, imposing largely symbolic counter-sanctions, and declaring that the new U.S. sanctions will have little impact on Russia, he is also engaged in a cost/benefit analysis.
While it is unlikely that Russia will return the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine, be a more sincere team-player in the near term, and stop its support of Iran and North Korea, the sanctions will be a significant check on Putin’s ambitions. He does not want a military conflict with the West – a conflict he would lose. Although he is an authoritarian leader, as the financial constraints begin to affect the Russian economy, and as Russia sells less and less gas to nations aligned with the United States, these factors will moderate his behavior, at least for now.
But Putin is a shrewd man. The future will require some of our best and most strategic thinking in the Departments of State and Defense. It will be imperative that the United States continues to enforce the sanctions. While not a cure-all, nor a geo-political panacea, the sanctions are some of the sharpest tools in the box. The United States must show Putin that his behavior has consequences.
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