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April 15, 2010

Expanding the Options for Dealing with Iran
Posted by Patrick Barry

One obvious detail that somehow gets lost in the debate over whether to place sanctions on Iran is that the U.S. is already sanctioning Iran quite a bit.  Looking at this conveniently-timed Reuters fact-box on sanctions on Iran, the thing that immediately jumps out is that it's both long, and comprehensive. Take a look: 

  • Sanctions imposed after Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy and took diplomats hostage in 1979 included a ban on most U.S.-Iran trade.
  • Goods or services from Iran cannot be imported into the United States, either directly or through third countries, with the following exceptions: gifts valued at $100 or less; information or informational materials; foodstuffs intended for human consumption; certain carpets and other textile floor coverings and carpets used as wall hangings.
  • In 1995, President Bill Clinton issued executive orders preventing U.S. companies from investing in Iranian oil and gas and trading with Iran. Tehran has looked for other customers.
  • Also in 1995, Congress passed a law requiring the U.S. government to impose sanctions on foreign firms investing more than $20 million a year in Iran's energy sector. It was extended for five years in September 2006. No foreign firms have yet been penalized, though many have severely curtailed their operations in Iran.
  • In October 2007 Washington imposed sanctions on Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat and branded the Revolutionary Guards a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. Two years later, in October 2009, the Treasury also sanctioned Bank Mellat in Malaysia and its chairman.
And that's not even including UN or EU sanctions!  Examining this list, it's clear that despite it being long and comprehensive, it really hasn't done very much to alter U.S. - Iran relations, advance political reform in Iran, or force Iran to make concessions on its nuclear program.  It sort of makes you wonder whether the supposed robust "crippling sanctions" of the kind associated with the current House and Senate legislation is something of a misnomer? Isn't the U.S. sanctioning Iran pretty robustly as it is? U.S. options are further hemmed in by the fact that virtually every member of the military establishment has warned of the severe consequences to U.S. interests if it were to strike at Iran militarily. So what is there to do?

It seems to me that there two paths the U.S. can consider. Of course It can continue doing what has become conventional, stacking more and more sanctions on Iran, with returns diminishing with the drop of each additional punitive measure.  But a better path would be to look to those actions that might actually expand the possibilities for dealing with Iran.  These recommendations from a joint NSN\TCF Advisory Group are a step in that direction.  


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