White House Delays Imposing New Sanctions on Iran for Missile Program

By Jay Solomon

Wall Street Journal

December 31, 2015

 

WASHINGTON—The White House has delayed its plan to impose new financial sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program, according to U.S. officials, amid growing tensions with Iran over the nuclear deal struck earlier this year.

The officials said the Obama administration remains committed to combating Iran’s missile program and that sanctions being developed by the U.S. Treasury Department remain on the table. They also said imposing such penalties was legal under the landmark nuclear agreement forged between global powers and Iran in July.

U.S. officials offered no definitive timeline for when the sanctions would be imposed after the decision was made Wednesday to delay them. At one point, they were scheduled to be announced Wednesday morning in Washington, according to a notification the White House sent to Congress.

Republican leaders on Thursday accused the Obama administration of losing its will to challenge Iran after Tehran countered on Thursday that it would accelerate the development of its arsenal.

“If the president’s announced sanctions ultimately aren’t executed, it would demonstrate a level of fecklessness that even the president hasn’t shown before,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a leading critic of the nuclear deal, in an interview.

Critics of the planned sanctions had already charged they weren’t an adequate U.S. response to Iran’s continuing development of its missile program.

President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday morning on Twitter that he had instructed Iran’s Ministry of Defense to accelerate the development of ballistic missiles in response to the news reports of the impending U.S. sanctions.

Asked to comment, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the timeline for missile-related sanctions was unrelated to threats made by Iran on Thursday and the broader nuclear deal recently reached with Tehran. The State Department offered no explanation for the delay.

Mr. Kirby said: “We’ve been clear from the outset that—outside the parameters of Iran’s nuclear program—we would continue to take appropriate actions to address Tehran’s destabilizing behavior.”

The White House on Wednesday morning sent a notification to Congress that the Treasury Department would announce at 10:30 a.m. new sanctions on nearly a dozen companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates for their alleged role in developing Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The sanctions would have been the first imposed on Iran since the nuclear agreement was reached last July in Vienna.

The White House then sent a second email to congressional offices at 11:12 a.m. stating the sanctions announcement had been “delayed for a few hours,” according to a copy of the communications seen by The Wall Street Journal.

In a final White House email sent just after 10 p.m., officials said the sanctions had been delayed, and didn’t specify when they might go ahead.

“We are considering various aspects related to additional designations, as well as evolving diplomatic work that is consistent with our national security interests, and as such we will not be announcing any additional designations today,” the White House email said. “We will continue to keep you informed as we work through remaining issues.”

Obama administration officials have said the U.S. could begin implementing the nuclear agreement in January given that Iran has taken steps to begin rolling back key parts of its nuclear program. As part of the deal, the U.S. committed to unfreezing as much as $100 billion in Iranian oil money frozen in overseas accounts.

Iranian leaders, though, have repeatedly warned the U.S. in recent months that any new sanctions on Iran, including penalties related to missile development, could undermine the deal’s implementation.

U.S. officials have said Secretary of State John Kerry has been in nearly constant contact with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, on the issue of the nuclear agreement and its implementation.

Mr. Rouhani, in his tweets Thursday, accused Washington of violating the deal.

“If U.S. continues its illegitimate interference with Iran’s right to defend itself, a new program will be devised to enhance missile capabilities,” the Iranian president said. “We have never negotiated regarding our defense capabilities including our missile program and will not accept any restrictions in this regard.”