What the US Should Do Now to Hold Iran Accountable

Click here to view what the EU and UK should do to hold Iran Accountable.

There are many tools that the United States should use to hold Iran’s regime accountable for its human rights abuses, engagement in and support for terrorism, and missile and drone proliferation.

The U.S. government should take the following actions to hold Iran accountable:

  • The president should use his unparalleled platform to deliver a major address on Iran and speak directly to the Iranian people and diaspora.  In the speech, he should acknowledge and support the Iranian people’s goals: the end of the Islamic Republic and the establishment of a democratic, accountable government that upholds human rights in its place. He should lay out his Iran policy, moving beyond the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) paradigm, declaring it dead, while shifting to a deterrence strategy of multilateral sanctions and aggressive enforcement, development of a credible military threat, and diplomatic isolation. A revival of the nuclear deal would only bankroll, via sanctions relief, the regime oppressing the Iranian people.
  • Insist on the unconditional release of all hostages, given Iran’s longstanding and increasing detention of foreign nationals.
  • Work with U.S. allies to develop creative, innovative approaches to ensure internet freedom for Iranians, including government partnerships with the private sector for satellite-based services. Additional support should include funding such efforts.
  • Support efforts to jam the Iranian regime’s ability to shut down internet access in Iran and use creative intelligence disclosures to assist Iranian revolutionaries in their movement. This includes use of offensive cyberoperations hampering the ability of Iran’s Communications Regulatory Authority and internet service providers in shutting down the internet.
  • Hold both private and public meetings between the president and other senior administration officials with members of the Iranian diaspora, Iranian dissidents, and opposition groups. The U.S. government should also work to develop a forum with its allies to provide the Iranian diaspora a platform to organize around a common agenda to represent the Iranian people before the international community. A first step should include hosting an international conference for the Iranian people. Funding for this initiative could come from part of the Iranian regime’s frozen assets which are held abroad.
  • Hold public congressional hearings to raise awareness about the protests in Iran and Iranian regime threats targeting U.S. citizens, including members of the Iranian diaspora.
  • Work with and encourage social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, to hinder Iran’s cyber army’s efforts in suppressing the voices of Iranian activists through tactics like shadow banning. Congress must also exercise the necessary oversight of social media companies in this regard.
  • Expel and revoke the visas for former Iranian regime officials and their relatives who sympathize with the Islamic Republic, work against U.S. interests and are profiting off the Iranian establishments' corruption. Such former officials include Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, Iran’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who teaches at Oberlin College, and Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s former ambassador to Germany, who holds an affiliation at Princeton University. Similar efforts have targeted Russian oligarchs in the aftermath of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. government should harmonize its efforts with allies in the G7 to ensure an integrated crackdown
  • Encourage U.S. allies and partners to isolate Tehran diplomatically by reducing the regime’s diplomatic presence in their countries, recalling ambassadors, suspending official visits, and mounting campaigns to strip the Islamic Republic of its membership in international organizations.
  • Support multilateral sanctions against Iran’s senior leadership for human rights abuses, making use of national Magnitsky Act authorities and harmonizing designations with U.S. allies. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; President Ebrahim Raisi; the supreme leader’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei; and other top Iranian decision-makers and shapers should be sanctioned multilaterally under Magnitsky authorities, including by the U.S. government.
  • Harmonize its sanctions regime with those of other countries. For example, around 100 individuals and entities are sanctioned for human rights abuses by the EU but not by the U.S.
  • Encourage its allies and partners to sanction the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Hezbollah, and the Houthis in their entireties as terrorist organizations.
  • Reimpose terrorism sanctions on the Iranian proxy group the Houthis (a.k.a. Ansar Allah). The Houthis use Iranian drones and missiles to regularly target critical infrastructure in U.S. partners’ territory, home to many thousands of American citizens.
  • Strictly enforce existing U.S. sanctions, including sanctioning all vessels involved in transporting Iranian petroleum and petroleum products, and enhancing efforts to seize, intercept, inspect on the high seas, or impound any tankers transporting Iranian petroleum or petroleum products.
  • Sanction all Chinese importers of Iranian oil, mainly comprising ‘semi-independent’ ‘teapot’ refiners, and the banks that finance this trade. Granular data on this commerce is publicly available.
  • Tighten rules on academic exchange and collaboration between American and Iranian educational institutions. Joint research and co-authored scientific papers in sensitive and sanctioned sectors continue to be conducted to this day, including with specifically designated Iranian universities and research institutes. The academic pipeline is a clear but often overlooked threat to non-proliferation and other concerns relating to human rights abuses.
  • Engage with domestic technology companies, in particular, to ensure much stronger enhanced due diligence and know your customers’ customer policies are properly implemented, and impose penalties on companies whose export compliance policies fall short and whose parts continue to be found in—notably—Iranian drones. The Islamic Republic has already supplied dozens of its drones to Russia, which have been deployed against Ukrainians. Almost all components are of Western origin.