Can Iran moderates hold ground against US pressure?

The US Congress vote to extend the Iran Sanctions Act has provoked harsh rhetoric in Tehran as well as a tempered response from decision-makers.

al-monitor Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 14, 2007. Photo by REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo.
Rohollah Faghihi

Rohollah Faghihi

@FaghihiRohollah

Topics covered

us congress, us-iranian relations, sanctions on iran, nuclear deal, jcpoa, hassan rouhani, barack obama

Dec 6, 2016

TEHRAN, Iran — The US House of Representatives voted to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) on Nov. 15, and the Senate followed suit on Dec. 1, approving the measure in a vote of 99-0 and sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature. “We believe the Iran Sanctions Act extension is not necessary, but we also believe it won't interfere with the Iran deal,” said Eric Schultz, deputy White House press secretary. “I would expect the president to sign this piece of legislation.”

US sanctions against Iran had originally been set out in 1996 in the Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) “to impose sanctions on persons making certain investments directly and significantly contributing to the enhancement of the ability of Iran or Libya to develop its petroleum resources.” After sanctions on Libya ended, the ILSA was renamed the Iran Sanctions Act, which passed in 2006.

The day after the November House vote, Iran adopted a strident tone in warning about its consequences. On Nov. 16, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), said, “If you extend the sanctions, this will mean kicking out the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], and we will confront it through implementing powerful technical packages.” Moreover, in a Nov. 23 meeting with members of the volunteer Basij forces, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said, “If these sanctions are extended, it will surely constitute a violation of the JCPOA, and [the United States] should know that the Islamic Republic will definitely react to it.”

Responding to the Senate vote, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Dec. 3 that the extension of the ISA would have no “practical effect.” Furthermore, President Hassan Rouhani appeared before the Iranian parliament on Dec. 4 and said, “We have not violated the JCPOA, and we will never violate the JCPOA. However, we will not tolerate the JCPOA’s violation,” sending a message to the incoming US administration. He added that the ISA extension constituted a “blatant contravention of the JCPOA and will be followed by Iran’s decisive response.”

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