The U.S. Senate Relations Committee today approved a new set of sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, and human rights abuses. The new sanctions – if approved and signed into law – will be the most extensive sanctions against Iran since the signing of the nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers almost two years ago. It is not yet clear how Tehran will respond. But a special report in Iran’s Tabnak News Agency (TNA) called the new sanctions a “clear violation of the J.C.P.O.A.” – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also called the 2015 nuclear deal. “Is it a declaration of war against Iran?” asked the outlet, which is close to Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council and former head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.). “This is not a minor violation but is tantamount to setting fire to the J.C.P.O.A. by America,” it added, raising the question as to whether the international community would side with the United States in imposing the sanctions against Iran. The report concluded by asking: “Will the J.C.P.O.A. be dismantled?”

Comment: While President Trump has not acted on his campaign promise of tearing up the nuclear deal, his administration has adopted a tougher approach to dealing with Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also announcement that the administration was conducting an inter-agency review of whether the lifting of sanctions against Iran served U.S. national security interests. In a letter to Congress, Tillerson said Iran remained in compliance with the nuclear accord but added that the Islamic Republic continued to support terrorism and work on its controversial ballistic missile program. When the administration renewed Iran sanctions waiver earlier this month, it simultaneously imposed new sanctions on Iran’s missile program. 

The new sanctions passed by the U.S. Senate come as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani just secured a second term in Iran’s presidential elections. His reelection proved to be more difficult than expected because ordinary Iranian still have reaped the benefits of the sanctions relief they expected from the nuclear deal. This is because existing U.S. non-nuclear sanctions have discouraged foreign investment necessary to stimulate Iran’s economic growth. Iran has said in the past that it will not renegotiate the nuclear deal. Iran’s Foreign Minister javad Zarif said in March that Tehran might itself walk away from the deal and restart its nuclear program if America “reneges on the deal” to the level that the deal “harms our national interests.”

During the campaign this month, Rouhani pledged that he will work with the United States and European countries to lift the remaining sanctions that discourage foreign banks and energy companies to invest in and do business with Iran. But that goal may be impossible for him to achieve for two reasons: First, the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress have made it clear that they will ratchet up pressure on Iran; second, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the powerful I.R.G.C. have ruled out a normalization of relations with the United States.