1. Background
  2. Middle East & Iran

New Iran Sanctions Risk Putting U.S. on War Path with Iran

By Kate Gould, March 27, 2017


The Senate is considering a new Iran sanctions bill (S. 722) that would put the Iran nuclear deal in jeopardy and risk putting the U.S. on path toward war with Iran.

FCNL strongly urges senators to vigorously oppose this saber-rattling, anti-diplomacy legislation, which will only embolden hardliners in Iran and make it all the more likely that clashes between U.S. and Iranian military forces could quickly spin out of control into deadly confrontations.

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Below are FAQ’s on this new sanctions bill.

What’s so bad about this bill?

1) The bill would undermine the Iran deal (JCPOA)

S. 722 would direct the President to impose new sanctions that would undermine the Iran deal. These very broad sanctions would likely prevent Iran from getting the full scope of economic benefits as anticipated under the Iran deal, because it would have a widespread chilling effect that would prevent companies engaging with legitimate business transactions with Iran.

Background Analysis: Sanctions Bill Poses Risk for Iran Deal 

Sanctions experts at the Arms Control Association explain the risk to the Iran deal posed by new Iran sanctions legislation S. 722. The ACA explains, "If this bill becomes law, it could threaten the ongoing implementation of the nuclear deal, which is successfully blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons."

2) The bill would make it more difficult for the U.S. and Iranian militaries to de-escalate clashes, making war all the more likely

The prospect for clashes between the U.S. and Iranian militaries is high particularly in Iraq, Syria, and Strait of Hormuz. To prevent further escalation, the U.S. and Iranian militaries have some ad hoc channels for communication, to avoid deadly confrontation. However, the little contact that exists between the U.S. and Iranian military would likely be closed down entirely if the U.S. designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—an elite wing of Iran’s military—as a terrorist organization.

This bill would effectively designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

Why are military leaders opposing designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization?

Military leaders have warned against this designation out of concern that shutting down channels of communication with Iran’s military would put U.S. servicemen and women in greater danger in Iraq, Syria and other places where U.S. forces operate in close proximity to the Iranian military and the IRGC. NIAC explains that the "designation would be duplicative of existing authorities, leaving only negative consequences from the unprecedented step of a terror label." The Iran Project elaborates on reasons that designating the IRGC would be contrary to U.S. interests.

Background Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act: According to the Experts 

This J Street resource on Iran sanctions bill S. 722 cites diplomacy and national security experts who oppose the most dangerous provisions of the bill. Experts explain why they oppose the broad and mandatory sanctions (Section 4), the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization (Section 5), and interference with Iran deal transition day obligations (Section 8).

Background Background on the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (S. 722) 

This NIAC fact sheet explains how the Iran sanctions bill S. 722 could constitute a clear violation of the Iran nuclear deal, would take steps opposed by the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment, and is unlikely to achieve its objectives.

Who supports the bill and who opposes it?

Even when a bill’s passage appears inevitable, with enough constituent pressure, the bill can still be stopped.

Supporters: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) supports it, and more than 10K citizen advocates with AIPAC are lobbying in support of the bill on Tuesday March 28.

Opponents: FCNL opposes the legislation along with our colleagues at the National Iranian American Council, Just Foreign Policy, and Peace Action. J Street has expressed concerns about the bill as well.

A number of former Obama administration officials penned a letter, in the form of an op-ed, to Senators asking that they not pass legislation that would harm the Iran deal. Adam Szubin, Obama's former Treasury Secretary who led sanctions policy against Iran, warned in a letter that the bill would, "provoke a terrible reaction in Iran and with our allies." Additionally, various military and national security officials have opposed designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

Will it pass?

The best way to predict the future is to create it! As we saw with the ACA repeal bill, and with several previous Iran sanctions bills over the years, even when a bill’s passage appears inevitable, with enough constituent pressure, the bill can still be stopped.

When do we predict the bill would come to the floor?

Again, see above on the best way to predict the future. Concerns about the bill fostered by dedicated pro-diplomacy advocates, including our constituents, already succeeded in pushing the mark up of the bill to the end of May, after the May 19th reelection of moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Given that this legislation will likely have the effect of empowering hardliners in Iran, pushing the mark up until after the election was a victory for those supporting continued diplomacy and deescalation between the U.S and Iran.

After the bill is considered in the the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) in late May, it can be passed and moved to the Senate floor.

What about the House, do they have a sanctions bill?

Yes, the text of the House bill is here. FCNL is focusing on the Senate bill which directly undermines the JCPOA and includes the provocative action of designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization, which the House bill does not do.

Where can I find the text of the Senate bill and cosponsor list?

Here’s the text of S. 722 and here’s the cosponsor list.

The original cosponsors of the bill are:

  • Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (MD)
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (AR)
  • Sen. Bob Casey (PA)
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (CO)
  • Sen. James Risch (ID)
  • Sen. Chris Coons (DE)
  • Sen. Dan Sullivan (AK)
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT)
  • Sen. Todd Young (IN)
  • Sen. Joe Donnelly (IN)

What can I do to stop the Senate sanctions bill?

Email your senators! You can follow up with calls, spreading the word to your friends and family, and writing a letter to the editor or op-ed in your local paper opposing S. 722. Better yet, you can request a lobby visit during the Memorial Day recess May 29 - June 2 to talk to your senator and/or their staff about your objections to this bill. You can email leah@fcnl.org for help setting that up.

Update Your Senators Can Help Protect the Iran Deal 

After two big victories for diplomacy, the Iran deal is still under threat from sanctions legislation. Show your senators the strength of the pro-diplomacy constituency by taking action today.

Update Security Leaders warn IRGC Designation Paves Path to War with Iran 

The proposal, embedded in pending Iran sanctions legislation S. 722, to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, could endanger U.S. troops in Iraq, imperil efforts against the Islamic State, and put the Iran nuclear deal, and peace with Iran, on thin ice.

Background Iran Deal: Hill Staff Resources 

The Iran Nuclear Accord must continue to be protected from ongoing efforts to undermine it.

Update #DiplomacyWorks: Iran Deal under President Trump 

The Iran nuclear deal stands on strong legs, and President-elect Trump's conviction to dismantle the deal remains unclear. Five factors could convince him to uphold the deal.

Kate Gould

  • Legislative Director, Middle East Policy

Kate Gould is FCNL's Legislative Director for Middle East Policy. Kate is one of only a handful of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. working to advance human rights objectives and support diplomatic solutions to resolve disputes between the U.S. and Iran and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel/Palestine.