Last month, Bloomberg reported that a bipartisan group of senators were drafting legislation that would impose Iran sanctions which could only be lifted if Iran moved toward "a free and democratically elected government." This dangerous push for regime change could set the stage for a costly and catastrophic war of choice against Iran.
According to Bloomberg, the bill was "expected to be finalized and introduced" in April; as of this writing, the bill's lead sponsor, Senator Mark Kirk (IL), has not yet introduced his "Iran Sanctions and Human Rights Act of 2013" or ISHRA.
Thursday, Senator Kirk introduced a different piece of legislation: bipartisan legislation to target Iran's foreign exchange reserves. This far-reaching sanctions bill promises to push the U.S. and Iran closer to confrontation, and farther away from a diplomatic resolution. However, it is worth noting that Senator Kirk's upcoming legislation that is the focus of this article is even more dangerous, as ISHRA would put Congress on the record of using the sanctions regime as a whole for regime change.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation has obtained an abridged version of the official regime change sanctions bill summary. Senator Kirk's bill is reportedly over 100 pages long and has been referred to by some congressional staff as 'the kitchen sink.' The bill summary lays out a dizzying array of sanctions, not just against Iran but also against the multitude of companies, countries, and potentially U.N. agencies that work with Iran or other countries that "face U.S. sanctions." Below are just a few of the most alarming provisions:
1) Iran Must Become Amnesty International for the U.S. to Lift Sanctions:
The centerpiece of Kirk's regime change sanctions would stipulate that before broad financial sanctions can be lifted, the Department of Treasury must certify that:
"the Government of Iran has released all political prisoners, is transitioning to a free and democratically elected government, and is protecting the rights and freedoms of all citizens of Iran, including women and minorities."
In effect, before sanctions can be lifted, Iran must become an Amnesty International paradise. Such impossible conditions for sanctions relief would make diplomacy far more difficult, and would lay the groundwork for war.
It wouldn't be the first time regime change sanctions serve as a basis for a future U.S. military attack -- that's what paved the path for war with Iraq. The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 defined 'regime change' as the official U.S. policy toward Iraq. That regime change sanctions bill was cited as a basis for the Authorization of Military Force Against Iraq in 2002; the infamous vote that ushered in the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. 2) Pay Lip Service to Iran's Humanitarian Crisis -- While Making it Worse
The legislation would not only signal U.S. regime change policy to the Iranian government -- it would also signal to the Iranian people as a whole that the U.S. is determined to pursue regime change by making ordinary Iranians suffer. Already, Iranians are dying because they can't access life-saving medicines. A recent report from the Wilson Center concludes that the primary cause of these medical shortages are sanctions against Iran's banking sector, which block payments for medicines and other humanitarian drugs.
Despite the lip service this legislation gives to protecting access to humanitarian goods, in practice it would expand the already-labyrinthine sanctions regime against Iran's financial sector, making it all the more difficult for Iranian patients to access life-saving drugs.
3) Punish the Entire World for the Existence of the Islamic Republic
Finally, the bill would send a signal to the entire world that the U.S. is bent on regime change -- by punishing many of the world's most vulnerable people. The draft legislation:
"prohibits U.S. contributions to any multilateral organization (other than the World Bank and the IMF) if the governing board of the organization includes [...]a country that faces U.S. sanctions."
If such legislation were enacted into law today, a host of U.N. agencies which include Iran on their governing boards would be de-funded, including the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the U.N. Environment Programme, and U.N. Habitat.
At a time when the Syrian refugee crisis has reached seismic proportions, this bill could require the U.S. to de-fund the U.N. Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) altogether, as Iran sits on their board.
Congress must reject regime change policies, and instead allow the administration to use sanctions as the bargaining chips they were purported to be. A prestigious group of top national security officials have recently recommended in a report by the Iran Project that the U.S. ease some sanctions in exchange for a crisis-ending nuclear deal with Iran. Congress should support diplomatic efforts to prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran -- not sabotage them.