US officials say Iran deal violates federal law
In a new twist to the debate over the Iran nuclear deal, Fox News is reporting that "senior officials" involved in the agreement's implementation have reached the conclusion that a section dealing with sanctions relief violates existing federal law.
At issue is a passage tucked away in ancillary paperwork attached to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known. Specifically, Section 5.1.2 of Annex II provides that in exchange for Iranian compliance with the terms of the deal, the U.S. “shall…license non-U.S. entities that are owned or controlled by a U.S. person to engage in activities with Iran that are consistent with this JCPOA.”
In short, this means that foreign subsidiaries of U.S. parent companies will, under certain conditions, be allowed to do business with Iran. The problem is that theIran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act (ITRA), signed into law by President Obama in August 2012, was explicit in closing the so-called “foreign sub” loophole.
Indeed, ITRA also stipulated, in Section 218, that when it comes to doing business with Iran, foreign subsidiaries of U.S. parent firms shall in all cases be treated exactly the same as U.S. firms: namely, what is prohibited for U.S. parent firms has to be prohibited for foreign subsidiaries, and what is allowed for foreign subsidiaries has to be allowed for U.S. parent firms.
What’s more, ITRA contains language, in Section 605, requiring that the terms spelled out in Section 218 shall remain in effect until the president of the United States certifies two things to Congress: first, that Iran has been removed from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, and second, that Iran has ceased the pursuit, acquisition, and development of weapons of mass destruction.
Additional executive orders and statutes signed by President Obama, such as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, have reaffirmed that all prior federal statutes relating to sanctions on Iran shall remain in full effect.
This is a complex issue that comes down to whether the White House will violate the law or not in order to implement the deal.
Administration sources told Fox News it is the intention of Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran’s foreign minister and five other world powers, that the re-opening of the “foreign sub” loophole by the JCPOA is to be construed as broadly as possible by lawyers for the State Department, the Treasury Department and other agencies involved in the deal’s implementation.
But the apparent conflict between the re-opening of the loophole and existing U.S. law leaves the Obama administration with only two options going forward. The first option is to violate ITRA, and allow foreign subsidiaries to be treated differently than U.S. parent firms. The second option is to treat both categories the same, as ITRA mandated – but still violate the section of ITRA that required Iran’s removal from the State Department terror list as a pre-condition of any such licensing.
There are some lawyers of the permanent state department bureaucracy who believe that the Iran deal is uniquely vulnerable to court action due to the fact that Congress held no vote on it. As always, you'd have to find an individual or business who would be impacted negatively by the deal in order to achieve standing in the courts to sue. This is probably easier said than done, so it is entirely possible that the treaty will not be challenged.
The administration claims that US sanctions on companies doing business in Iran will remain in place, but this loophole will open the door of commerce to dozens of companies wishing to profit from the nuclear deal. I'm sure the Iranians are grateful that President Obama will end up ignoring US law to facilitate commerce between the two countries.