Iranian leaders have become cognizant of the fact that their hardball political tactics pay off very well with President Obama. They continue to obtain concessions from President Obama even in his last few months in office. They see that intransigence works with the White House, and that threatening the U.S. will lead to Obama offering more concessions to Iran. For Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), giving concessions means weakness.
After a series of anti-American statements and lashing out at the U.S. by Ayatollah Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif, the Obama administration eased more critical sanctions on Iran through new regulatory measures by the Treasury department.
The new measures, in loosening further sanctions against Iran, are critical, as they directly lift sanctions against powerful entities in Iran's elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The timing of the new sanctions reliefs is also intriguing: it was implemented quietly, right before the presidential debate and before the three-day holiday in Congress, probably in an attempt not to attract media attention or Congressional criticism.
Both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, have been extremely critical of the Obama administration's continuing appeasement policies and loosening of sanctions against Iran.
According to the Treasury's website, one of the new guidelines in easing crucial sanctions on Iran is:
"It is not necessarily sanctionable for a non-US person to engage in transactions with an entity that is not on the SDN (Specifically Designated Nations) List but that is minority owned, or that is controlled in whole or in part, by an Iranian or Iran-related person on the SDN List."
This regulatory measure facilitates business dealings with government-owned companies in Iran, by assisting Iran in attracting foreign businesses, as well as further giving the IRGC access to the global financial system.
More fundamentally, this sanctions relief allows foreign companies to do business with Iranian firms even if those Iranian firms are owned by individuals who are listed on the US sanction list.
Many Iranian companies are owned by senior figures in the IRGC and Iran's judiciary who have been involved in crimes against humanity, violating international laws, breaching UN resolutions, money laundering and monstrous human rights violations. Many senior members of the IRGC have long been blacklisted. Nevertheless, the new sanctions relief allows foreign companies to do business with them without repercussions.
The IRGC has significant control over Iran's economic and political systems. The IRGC and its foreign branch, the Quds Force (which operates in foreign countries) have been involved in military adventurism across the region supporting, financing and arming terrorist-designated groups, Shiite proxies and Syria's Assad's regime, and have been determined to scuttle US foreign policy and national security for decades.
This sanctions relief not only gives legitimacy to the IRGC globally, but also emboldens and empowers Iran's elite military unit by allowing them legally to conduct business and transfer money.
In addition, to further assist and appease Iranian leaders, the Obama administration has allowed Iran to use American dollars in its business dealings. According to the recently updated website of the Treasury Department:
"Foreign financial institutions, including foreign-incorporated subsidiaries of US financial institutions, may process transactions denominated in US dollars or maintain US dollar-denominated accounts that involve Iran or persons ordinarily resident in Iran, or in which there is an interest of a person whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to Executive Order 13599 and section 560.211 of the ITSR, including NIOC, the CBI, and other individuals and entities that meet the definition of the government of Iran or an Iranian financial institution, provided that such transactions or account activities do not involve, directly or indirectly, the United States financial system or any United States person, and do not involve any person on the SDN List..."
Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of Iran's Expediency Council, pointed out that the U.S. Treasury's action will further facilitate Iran's banking transactions. This new sanctions relief will in fact facilitate Iran's money laundering and also help Iran's ruling politicians to transfer their wealth offshore, secured in safe havens.
Furthermore, the Obama administration secretly agreed to remove sanctions on several Iranian banks, including Bank Sepah and Sepah International. These banks have long been sanctioned by the United Nations due to their illegal activities in missile financing and skirting UN security resolutions regarding the arms embargo.
This means that by lifting sanctions against Iranian banks and permitting IRGC leaders to conduct business, there exists no mechanism to check and stop Iran's illegal activities when it comes to platforms such as advancement of its ballistic missile program.
Last month, the Treasury Department also granted licenses to aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. This allows the IRGC to buy advanced aircraft.
The new sanctions reliefs and other measures by the Obama administration directly benefits and empowers the IRGC stranglehold regionally and globally. It appears that, even in his last few months in office, President Obama is determined to give as many concessions as he can to Iranian leaders, and to make sure that reversing such sanctions relief will be impossible.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, political scientists and Harvard University scholar is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He can be reached at Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org