US President Barack Obama's administration has not exercised its right under US law to sanction the Russian sale of an advanced weapon system to Iran, leading some in Congress to demand clarifications and accuse the administration of appeasing Tehran.
Obama can declare Russia's sale of the S-300 missile defense system as illegal and enact sanctions against it. The deal, said to be completed by the end of the year, is highly controversial because the advanced missile system would leave Iran's nuclear system - and potentially its nuclear arsenal - nearly impervious to attack.
Aside from declaring the sale illegal under US law, Obama can also veto the arms sale at the UN Security Council - he has so far refused to take either action, and his administration has not responded to repeated queries as to whether it intends to take action.
In response to a query, a State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon that the administration has not yet decided whether or not to issue sanctions on the imminent S-300 sale.
“We’re continuing to closely follow reports concerning the delivery of the S-300 defensive missile system from Russia to Iran,” the official said.
“We have not made a determination as to whether this delivery, if and when complete, would trigger any actions under US authorities.”
Representative's inquiry ignored
Washington Free Beacon revealed on Thursday that Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH) sent a inquiry to the White House over a month ago on April 7 about the S-300 sale. The White House has not seen fit to reply.
“Given the serious implications for the United States and our allies in the region, I respectfully request that you quickly determine that Russia’s transfer of S-300 surface-to-air missile systems advance Iran’s efforts to acquire ‘destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons’ and impose the necessary US sanctions once the Russian delivery takes place," Chabot wrote.
The Representative expressed his concern "that without such a determination the United States may be viewed as acquiescing to this transfer."
Chabot told Washington Free Beacon on Thursday that "despite multiple inquires to the US Department of State, I still have not received a response on Russia’s S300 surface-to-air missile system transfer to Iran."
"This apparent dismissal leaves me wondering what exactly the Administration is hiding. I am really asking a simple question – is the introduction of a sophisticated weapon system into Iran, that has not been there previously, going to elicit the appropriate US sanctions response? I am not sure why the Administration has found it so hard to come to a determination."
He warned that "the S300 is one of the most advanced anti-aircraft missile system’s in the world and significantly bolsters Iran’s offensive capabilities and stands as a serious hurdle to our efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear armed state. This is absolutely a destabilizing conventional weapon system."
"These systems would significantly bolster Iran’s offensive capabilities and introduce new obstacles to our efforts to eliminate the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. I believe existing US sanctions should be used to deter Russia from transferring this or other dangerous weapons systems to Iran," Chabot said.
"Obama just trying to preserve nuclear deal"
Aside from a veto at the UN Security Council against the weapons deal, the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992 allows the president to sanction the sale of "advanced conventional weapons" to Iran by any country.
In his letter to the White House, Cabot noted this, saying, "US law provides your administration with the authority to apply US sanctions in response."
"For example, the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act and the Iran Sanctions Act provide authority for you to sanction individuals or countries that you determine are aiding Iran’s efforts to acquire or develop ‘destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.’”
Noting the rationale for the sanctions, Chabot pointed to the destabilizing factor the advanced missile system would play in the hands of the leading state sponsor of terror in the world.
"Iran’s acquisition of these systems would embolden Tehran to adopt a more threatening regional posture and to pursue offensive activities detrimental to regional stability in the belief that the systems would deter retaliation," he warned.
A foreign policy adviser who works with Congress on Iran told Washington Free Beacon that Obama can no longer keep silent on the S-300 sale.
"The administration tried to look the other way, but got called out for it by Congress. Then they spent a month and a half hoping that the whole thing would go away," said the adviser.
"Now I don’t know what they’re going to do, since it’s obvious that they’re letting Iran import advanced weapons in violation of US law just to preserve the nuclear deal."