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Trump Signed National Defense Authorization Act With A Lot Of Iran In It, Here's Every Important Thing You Need To Know
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Trump Signed National Defense Authorization Act With A Lot Of Iran In It, Here’s Every Important Thing You Need To Know

The National Defense Authorization Act that US President Donald Trump signed today (August 13) at a signing ceremony at Fort Drum, NY includes almost 100 references to “Iran” in it. This illustrates the unprecedented tensions with Iran, but it also shows that Congress was diligent in weighing the current escalation with Tehran and the Iranian threat to the Middle East that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others have articulated.

The NDAA is named the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act” this year and honors Senator McCain. Here are all the important passages in the bill that you need to know about.

On Iran: The interesting stuff

The House version of the NDAA included a report on Iranian support for proxy forces.

Report on Iranian support of proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1229) that would require the President to submit to Congress not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act a report that describes the Government of Iran’s support of proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon and assesses the resulting threat posed to Israel, other regional allies of the United States, and the interests of the United States. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The House recedes. The conferees note that the Department of Defense’s congressionally mandated annual report on the military power of Iran already requires information on support from Iran to groups designated by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations and regional militant groups, including forces that are willing to carry out operations on behalf of Iran. The conferees encourage the Secretary of Defense to include detailed information in future reports regarding: the regional threats posed by arms or related material transferred by Iran to Hezbollah; the means by which such arms transfers are made; and the impacts of Iranian and Iranian-controlled personnel, including Hezbollah, Shiite militias, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps forces, operating within Syria. The conferees also note that, elsewhere in this report, the conferees direct the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State and other appropriate officials, to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report specific to Hezbollah.

The House wanted a provision to restrain the president in use of force against Iran, but it didn’t make it in the final version.

Sense of Congress on the lack of authorization for the use of the Armed Forces against Iran The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1230) that would express the sense of Congress that the use of the Armed Forces against Iran is not authorized by this Act or any other Act. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The House recedes. The conferees note that nothing in this Act may be construed to authorize the use of the Armed Forces of the United States against Iran. At the time of the signing of this report, the conferees are not aware of any information that would justify the use of military force against Iran under any other statutory authority.

Iranian-backed militias are also mentioned but it appears this was struck from the final bill

Imposition of sanctions The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1230F) that would require the President to impose specified sanctions on As-Saib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, and foreign persons with certain associations with the former two organizations. The Senate amendment contained no such provision. The House recedes.

On Iran: Understanding the NDAA

The NDAA deals with Iran as part of a package relating to the region, which makes sense because Iran’s influence extends across Iraq, Syria and into Lebanon and threatens traditional US allies. Under Title XII of the bill:

Subtitle C—Matters Relating to Syria, Iraq, and Iran Sec. 1231. Extension and modification of authority to provide assistance to the vetted Syrian opposition. Sec. 1232. Syrian war crimes accountability. Sec. 1233. Extension of authority to provide assistance to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Sec. 1234. Limitation on assistance to the Government of Iraq. Sec. 1235. Extension and modification of authority to support operations and activities of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq. Sec. 1236. Modification of annual report on military power of Iran

Section 1233, which relates to a portion of the bill detailing the war on ISIS, contains a statement about the IRGC and Iraqi security forces, a reference to the penetration of Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), without mentioning the PMU:

(A) The extent to which any forces associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been incorporated into the Iraqi Security Forces.

(B) Any instances in which forces associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps have acquired United States-provided equipment and training.

(E) The means by which the United States Armed Forces shares operational information with the Iraqi Security Forces and a description of any known instances in which any forces associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps have gained unauthorized access to such operational information.

Section 1234 follows up and states the obvious, no money for the IRGC:

SEC. 1234. LIMITATION ON ASSISTANCE TO THE GOVERNMENT OF IRAQ. None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act for assistance to the Government of Iraq may be obligated or expended by the United States to provide assistance to any group that is, or that is known to be affiliated with, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps–Quds Force or a state sponsor of terrorism.

An important addition to deal with the “Houthis”

SEC. 1236. MODIFICATION OF ANNUAL REPORT ON MILITARY POWER OF IRAN. Section 1245(b) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (10 U.S.C. 113 note) is amended— (1) in paragraph (3)(B), by inserting ‘‘the Houthis,’’ after ‘‘Hamas,’’; and (2) in paragraph (7)— (A) by inserting ‘‘the Russian Federation,’’ after ‘‘Pakistan,’’; and (B) by inserting ‘‘trafficking or’’ before ‘‘development’’.

Section 1237 looks at details of Iran’s “destabilizing activities”

SEC. 1237. STRATEGY TO COUNTER DESTABILIZING ACTIVITIES OF IRAN. (a) STRATEGY AUTHORIZED.— (1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, may develop a strategy with foreign partners to counter the destabilizing activities of Iran. (2) ELEMENTS.—The strategy described in paragraph (1)— (A) should identify specific countries in which Iran and Iranian-backed entities are operating; and (B) should establish a cooperative framework that includes, as appropriate— (i) investing in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities; (ii) investing in mine countermeasures resources and platforms; (iii) investing in integrated air and missile defense platforms and technologies; (iv) sharing intelligence and data between the United States and such foreign countries; (v) investing in cyber security and cyber defense capabilities; (vi) engaging in combined planning and exercises; (vii) engaging in defense education, institution building, doctrinal development, and reform; and (viii) assessing Iran’s destabilizing activities in the countries identified under subparagraph (A) and the implications thereof. (b) REPORT.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter through December 31, 2021, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, should submit to the congressional defense committees and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on actions taken to enhance cooperation and encourage military-to military engagement between the United States and foreign partners with the goal of countering the destabilizing actions of Iran and, if applicable, the strategy authorized by subsection (a).

The “use of force” issue noted above is mentioned in section 1295

SEC. 1295. RULE OF CONSTRUCTION RELATING TO THE USE OF FORCE. Nothing in this Act may be construed to authorize the use of force against Iran or North Korea.

Section 1642 mentions Iran in relation to cyber threats, alongside Russia and other countries

Section 1682 mentions Iran in relation to threats to the US homeland

(B) provides for increased protection of the continental United States from North Korean and Iranian threats;

Preventing Iran from obtaining US weapons is mentioned again in matters relating to Iran, Syria and Iraq

the appropriate congressional committees and leadership of the House of Representatives and the Senate a quarterly progress report on the end-use of United States provided equipment and the extent to which any organizations associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have been incorporated into the Iraqi military.

Section 1234 related to assistance to Iraq

Limitation on assistance to the Government of Iraq (sec. 1234) The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1230D) that would limit the obligation or expenditure of funds authorized to be appropriated for this Act for assistance to the Ministry of the Interior of the Government of Iraq until the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State jointly certify to the appropriate congressional committees that such funds will not be disbursed by the United States to any group that is or is known to be affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force or other state sponsor of terrorism. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The Senate recedes with an amendment that would remove the reference to the Ministry of the Interior and expand the prohibition to the Government of Iraq

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Relating to an annual report on the power of Iran:

Modification to annual report on the military power of Iran (sec. 1236) The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1228) that would require the President to submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter for five years, on cooperation between Iran and the Russian Federation and the extent to which such cooperation affects United States interests, particularly with respect to Syria. The House bill contained an additional provision (sec. 1230E) that would require the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, to submit to Congress not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act a report describing Iranian expenditures in the previous calendar year on military and terrorist activities outside the country. The Senate amendment contained a similar provision (sec. 1225) that would amend section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111–84), as amended, to require an assessment of military cooperation and collaboration on the development of nuclear, biological, chemical, and advanced conventional weapons, weapons systems, and delivery vehicles between Iran and the Russian Federation and additional information on the Government of Iran’s support to the Houthis. The House recedes. The conferees note that the Department of Defense’s congressionally mandated annual report on the military power of Iran requires extensive reporting requirements on Iranian military activity. Therefore, the conferees encourage the Secretary of Defense to include detailed information in future reports on Russian and Iranian cooperation, particularly with respect to cooperation in Syria, assistance to the Assad regime, the establishment of forward operating bases, the deployment of air defense systems, and assistance to the Syrian chemical weapons program. The conferees also encourage the Secretary to include descriptions of any Russian and

Iranian cooperation on: Iran’s space program, including whether such cooperation strengthens Iran’s ballistic missile program; intelligence sharing; naval cooperation; nuclear cooperation; the development and employment of hybrid warfare methods; and the activities of Iranian proxy forces such as Hezbollah.

Iran’s destabilizing activity

Strategy to counter destabilizing activities of Iran (sec. 1237) The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1225) that would authorize the Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, to develop and implement a strategy with foreign partners to counter the destabilizing activities of Iran. Furthermore, it would require the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees describing the strategy and actions to enhance multilateral coordination. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The Senate recedes with an amendment that would make a number of technical and clarifying changes. The conferees note the importance of multilateral cooperation in the Middle East and encourage the Secretary of Defense to enhance cooperation and military-to-military engagement within multilateral fora when appropriate and practicable.

Ballistic missiles

Sense of Congress on ballistic missile cooperation to counter Iran The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1224) that would offer a number of findings concerning the importance of ballistic missile defense cooperation to counter Iran and express the sense of Congress that member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should engage in such cooperation with the support of the United States. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The House recedes. The conferees recognize the importance of ballistic missile defense cooperation in the Middle East, particularly among the member countries of the GCC given Iran’s ballistic missile program and its broader destabilizing actions in the region. The conferees encourage the countries of the GCC to take meaningful steps to develop and implement an interoperable ballistic missile defense architecture to defend against the Iranian ballistic missile threat that emphasizes information sharing and includes early warning and tracking data. Furthermore, the conferees support continued bilateral and multilateral missile defense exercises between the United States and its partners in the region and encourage increasing the capacity of those partners through foreign military sales as appropriate and practicable.

More on missiles

Sense of Congress on ballistic missile program of Iran The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1230C) that would express the sense of Congress that the ballistic missile program of Iran represents a serious threat to the allies of the United States in the Middle East and Europe, members of the Armed Forces deployed in those regions, and ultimately the United States. It would also express the sense of Congress that the Government of the United States should impose tough primary and secondary sanctions against institutions and persons that directly or indirectly support the program. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The House recedes. The conferees remain deeply concerned by Iran’s ballistic missile program, which poses a significant threat to regional stability and United States interests. Iran’s testing and production of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons violates multiple unanimously adopted United Nations Security Council resolutions. To address this threat, the conferees believe existing unilateral and multilateral sanctions should be fully utilized to help deny support to the Iranian ballistic missile program and that the United States should continue to engage with partners and allies to address the Iranian ballistic missile threat.

Chemical weapons

Report on compliance of Iran under the Chemical Weapons Convention The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1226) that would require the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the appropriate committees of Congress on the extent to which Iran is complying with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Senate amendment contained no such provision. The House recedes.

The conferees direct the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State to submit a report not later than February 1, 2019, to the congressional defense committees, the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House on the extent to which Iran is complying with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention that includes the following elements: (1) A description, assessment, and verification, to the extent practicable, of any credible information that Iran has assisted the Government of Syria in committing actions that violate the convention; (2) A description of any dual-use technologies sought by Iran that could advance Iran’s capability to produce chemical weapons for offensive use; (3) The implications of any activities or technologies described in the elements above for Iran’s compliance with international obligations relating to nonproliferation; and (4) Any other matters the Secretaries determine to be relevant. The report shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex.

Proxy forces:

Report on Iranian support of proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1229) that would require the President to submit to Congress not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act a report that describes the Government of Iran’s support of proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon and assesses the resulting threat posed to Israel, other regional allies of the United States, and the interests of the United States. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision.

The House recedes. The conferees note that the Department of Defense’s congressionally mandated annual report on the military power of Iran already requires information on support from Iran to groups designated by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations and regional militant groups, including forces that are willing to carry out operations on behalf of Iran. The conferees encourage the Secretary of Defense to include detailed information in future reports regarding: the regional threats posed by arms or related material transferred by Iran to Hezbollah; the means by which such arms transfers are made; and the impacts of Iranian and Iranian-controlled personnel, including Hezbollah, Shiite militias, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps forces, operating within Syria. The conferees also note that, elsewhere in this report, the conferees direct the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State and other appropriate officials, to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report specific to Hezbollah.

Use of force

Sense of Congress on the lack of authorization for the use of the Armed Forces against Iran The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1230) that would express the sense of Congress that the use of the Armed Forces against Iran is not authorized by this Act or any other Act. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision. The House recedes.

Iranian-backed militias

Imposition of sanctions The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1230F) that would require the President to impose specified sanctions on As-Saib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, and foreign persons with certain associations with the former two organizations. The Senate amendment contained no such provision. The House recedes.

Imposition of sanctions The House bill contained a provision (sec. 1230F) that would require the President to impose specified sanctions on As-Saib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, and foreign persons with certain associations with the former two organizations. The Senate amendment contained no such provision. The House recedes.

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GCC and Iran

The conferees note that the member countries of the GCC are important security cooperation partners of the United States and that their unity is critical given growing threats from Iran in the region. The conferees further note that the timely normalization of diplomatic, security, and economic relationships among GCC member countries is in the best interest of the United States and encourage the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State to facilitate such normalization as soon as possible.

Some other interesting details

The NDAA mentioned the Peshmerga and their role in the war on ISIS.

SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of the Congress that— (1) the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have made, and continue to make, significant contributions to the United States-led campaign to degrade, dismantle, and ultimately defeat ISIS.

Strategy in Syria?

Congress wondered about the “lack of clarity” in what Trump is doing in Syria.

The conferees recognize the significant progress made by coalition forces against ISIS, but remain deeply concerned by the lack of clarity and conflicting messages from administration officials on the United States’ strategy in Syria. The conferees urge the administration to provide the information necessary for the Congress to adequately evaluate the requirements for this authority and how it contributes to the accomplishment of U.S. objectives in Syria.

Did Iran assist Syria in its chemical weapons and human rights abuses?

(1) A description, assessment, and verification, to the extent practicable, of any credible information that Iran has assisted the Government of Syria in committing actions that violate the convention

Conclusion

The NDAA is clear in its opposition to a variety of Iranian threats in the region, including proxy forces, the role of Hezbollah, Iran’s role in Syria and Iraq, Iran’s threats to the Gulf states and also its role in Yemen. However many of the particularly that the House or Senate initially wanted to include were struck from the final bill and responsibility to report on the specifics passed to other portions of the government.

It is clear that some in Congress are reticent about a conflict with Iran, but that others are concerned that the US has been funding Iraq and its security forces without accounting for where the money is going or whether the IRGC is benefiting.

There is a lot of discussion of strategy and an attempt to prod the Trump administration to come up with a strategy. Pompeo’s May speech about the US leaving the Iran deal included a plethora of information on Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Syria, yet there has not been an attempt to come up with a strategy to confront Iran. Pompeo said in July that there have been no orders about confronting Iran and that the main mission remains fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Congress, in the NDAA, is saying it’s time for a strategy and a new mission. But it is also reticent to spell it out.

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