Report: Who Has Authority to Lift US Sanctions on Iran

July 21, 2015

A new Congressional Research Service report by Dianne Rennack lays out the legislative basis for sanctions on Iran, as well as the authority of Congress and the President to waive or lift sanctions. The ability to impose and remove sanctions with “some nimbleness and responsiveness to changing events” is crucial for advancing foreign policy objectives, according to Rennack. The following are excerpts from the report.

The regime of economic sanctions against Iran is arguably the most complex the United States and the international community have ever imposed on a rogue state. Iran’s economy was once integrated into world trade, markets, and banking. As relations deteriorated, for the United States starting during Iran’s 1979 revolution and hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy, and for the larger international community over more recent human rights, regional stability, and nuclear proliferation concerns, this complete economic integration offered seemingly limitless opportunities to impose economic restrictions and create points where pressure could be applied to bring Iran back into conformity with international norms.
The June 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani seemed to have created the possibility of an opening between the United States and Iran. The presidents of each nation addressed a fall 2013 meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, and spoke directly to one another shortly thereafter—the first direct contact at the top level in 34 years. Diplomatic staff representing the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain (permanent members of the U.N. Security Council), plus Germany (P5+1),1 met with Iran’s foreign ministry in mid-October 2013 on the heels of that contact. Over November 7-9, 2013, these negotiators drafted an interim deal that would require Iran to limit its nuclear program and, in exchange, require the United States and others to ease economic sanctions affecting Iran’s access to some of its hard currency held abroad. The P5+1 and Iran negotiators agreed to a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) on November 24, 2013, under which Iran would commit to placing “meaningful limits on its nuclear program,” and the P5+1 states would “provide Iran with limited, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief for a six-month period.” Subsequently, all parties agreed to extend the terms of the JPOA an additional six months, to July 20, 2014, and again to November 24, 2014. As the November deadline was reached without final agreement, all parties extended terms of the JPOA—including sanctions relief—through June 30, 2015.
The sudden possibility that the United States may ease financial sector sanctions, and perhaps commit to an eventual dismantling of the entire panoply of economic restrictions on Iran affecting aid, trade, shipping, banking, insurance, underwriting, and support in the international financial institutions, arrived at a time when Congress had been considering additional sanctions on Iran.
The 114th Congress enacted the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015,6 and the President signed the measure into law on May 22, 2015.7 The act, by amending the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, requires the President to send any agreement reached with Iran relating to its nuclear program to the Senate Committees on Finance; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Select Committee on Intelligence; and Foreign Relations; the House Committees on Ways and Means; Financial Services; Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Foreign Affairs; and majority and minority leaders in each chamber, within five days. Transmittal to Congress includes any supporting material, including a verification assessment report to be completed by the Secretary of State. The act affords Congress a period of time to review the agreement and assessment, during which “the President may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions with respect to Iran under any provision of law or refrain from applying any such sanctions pursuant to an agreement.... ”
Click here for the full report