National Security

Senate GOP Pushes for Fresh Sanctions on Iran’s Financial Sector

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) / Getty Images

Senate Republicans petitioned the White House to press forward with a set of new sanctions on the entirety of Iran's financial sector, a move that would cut Tehran off from the global banking system.

In a letter sent to President Donald Trump Thursday, top GOP senators led by Tom Cotton (Ark.) urged the administration to "impose sanctions on the entirety of Iran's financial sector," which still remains connected to the primary global banking system known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT).

"At least 14 Iranian banks remain open and connected to the SWIFT financial messaging network for sanctions-free financial transactions, providing the regime a crucial economic lifeline," the letter stated. "This is despite the fact that most other Iranian financial institutions are under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury for their financial sponsorship of terrorism—including the Central Bank of Iran, which capitalizes these remaining banks and may be using them as fronts for its activities."

If the Trump administration moves forward with new sanctions, the country would be disconnected from the global financial system, "and the regime's ability to fund its malign regional influence would be even further diminished," according to the letter. The White House, in January, issued an executive order authorizing greater action on Iran. The senators are asking the White House to use the power granted in that executive order to sanction every Iranian bank still accessing SWIFT.

In addition to Cotton, the letter was endorsed by Sens. John Cornyn (R., Texas), Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Rick Scott (R., Fla.), and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.).

Iran's government has been on the brink of collapse during the past several years due to the Trump administration's tough sanctions regime. Its GDP declined by 5 percent in 2018 and another 8 percent in 2019. Inflation is also through the roof. Additional sanctions on Iran's oil sector—one of its primary revenue-generating exports—has cut production by nearly 50 percent.

"Iran's desperate economic circumstances provide a critical opportunity for the United States to force the regime to abandon its malign activities and return to the negotiating table on your terms," the senators wrote. "Dealing a further, final blow to Iran's financial industry is an effective means towards achieving this result."

The Senate letter comes following a Wall Street Journal piece by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Mark Dubowitz and Richard Goldberg outlining the steps that must be taken to "cut off Tehran's financial oxygen."