Another viewpoint editorial: Biden’s Iran sanctions policy signals incoherence

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The Wall Street Journal

Two days after reissuing a $10 billion Iran sanctions waiver, the Biden Administration on March 15 threatened coordinated Group of Seven sanctions against Iran if it delivers ballistic missiles to Russia. The policy signal these two moves send is incoherence.

G-7 leaders are talking tough. “Were Iran to proceed with providing ballistic missiles or related technology to Russia,” they write, “we are prepared to respond swiftly and in a coordinated manner including with new and significant measures against Iran.” Russia has benefited greatly from Iranian drones in its invasion of Ukraine, and its interest in Tehran’s missiles has been clear for months.

All of this was foreseeable when the U.S., U.K., France and Germany let the international embargo on Iran’s missile program lapse in October. Instead of triggering snapback sanctions, the Biden Administration preferred to avoid an escalation that might disrupt diplomacy with Iran. Weeks after the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel, while Iran’s proxies were firing on U.S. troops in the region, appeasement was in the air.

It was the same story in November, when the administration last renewed the sanctions waiver giving Iran access to more than $10 billion. It opens up to Iran the frozen revenue from its electricity shipments to Iraq, which seems to have a perpetual excuse to buy sanctioned goods from Iran.

As usual, the State Department spin is that the money can be used only for “humanitarian purposes,” and that the Trump administration issued waivers too. Neither point survives scrutiny.

The old waivers let Iraq import electricity from Iran but sent the money into escrow in Iraq, where Iran couldn’t touch it. President Biden changed the rules, allowing the money to leave escrow, be converted to euros and end up as an Iranian fund in Omani banks. It can be put toward Iran’s debt payments and import subsidies, according to Richard Goldberg of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Adults know that money is fungible. These funds free up others for use in spreading terrorism abroad and advancing a nuclear-weapons program at home. Why does the Biden administration pretend otherwise?

Maybe it’s for the same reason the administration keeps hidden how much of the $10 billion Iran has accessed since the waiver was last extended: The American people might not like what they find out.

The G-7’s newfound assertiveness on Iranian missile transfers to Russia is welcome, but its deterrent value is undermined by President Biden’s waiver 48 hours earlier. His Iran policy has remained stuck in the world of Oct. 6, desperate to buy peace and quiet from a regime with no interest in either.