Iran Update 1: The Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Reform and Modernization Act

January 17, 2012 6:30 AM

As we have noted in earlier posts on the positions of Newt Gingrich and the other Republican candidates, Iran is emerging as a central foreign policy issue in the upcoming presidential campaign. And whenever Iran comes up, there are bound to be references to the North Korean connection and what the Iranian saga says about prospects for the Six Party Talks. In this two-part post we look at some recent developments and sources that may be of interest, starting with the issue of sanctions.

First, the politics of the North Korean issue can be gleaned from a Republican-sponsored “Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Reform and Modernization Act” that is winding its way through Capitol Hill (CRS summary here; .pdf here). With Iraq eliminated and the Syrian regime behaving badly, we now have a new Axis of Evil: North Korea is included in an update of legislation that was originally targeted at Iran and Syria (The Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 begat the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act in 2005, which begat the current legislation).

The bill is long and intricate, and with respect to Iran has been pre-empted by the much tougher sanctions the Obama administration is pushing with respect to the Iranian central bank. It is also hard to tell how far it goes beyond sanctions already in place through UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, and the myriad of other sanctions the US maintains on each of the three countries.

But the bill continues the tradition of Executive Order 13382 signed by President Bush in 2005 (“Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters”). The Executive Order allows the United States to block or “freeze” the property and assets of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or ballistic missile proliferators and their supporters; the State Department website has a list of designated enterprises and individuals. These firms and people are denied access to the United States financial and commercial systems.

The core of the bill is the imposition of highly-targeted sanctions against firms conducting any proscribed business with the three countries. The definition of proscribed business is still tied explicitly to the three countries’ weapons programs. In that sense, it is cautious; Romney wants to go after those engaging in commercial trade as well, an extra-territorial approach along the lines of the infamous Helms-Burton bill dealing with Cuba.

Nonetheless, the list is expansive. The bill explicitly targets firms involved in:

  • Sales or purchases of items listed under all extant export control regimes, including nuclear, dual use, missile, chemical,
    and biological;
  • Mining or mineral extraction in any of the three countries that can be connected to WMD and missile programs;
  • Sales of equipment that could be used in mining or milling uranium;
  • Provision of vessels, insurance, or any other shipping service for transporting goods that might be connected with these
    programs.

The extraterritorial element is not direct; it comes through a prohibition on any American financing of such entities. But other banks may also look hard at any business with such entities once proscribed.

The bill also contains some gratuitous language aimed at Russia, prohibiting any payments for the International Space Station to the Russian Aviation and Space Agency unless the Russian government signs up to US measures. In addition to our ongoing problems in getting China to comply (for example, in limiting luxury exports) the bill opens a second front by badgering the Russians as well.

This fine-tuning of the sanctions language is less important than the political signal it sends to the Obama administration: coddle the North Koreans at your peril.

We should add that the US sanctions push has put substantial pressure on South Korea. Intensive diplomacy is afoot between South Korea and other Gulf suppliers as well as between Washington and Seoul over how much South Korea will cooperate. The term “waiver” has already been raised, suggesting Seoul will not give 100%.

Next time, some updates and sources on the North Korea-Iran link.

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