Key Questions

  • Should the United States pass more stringent sanctions against Iran?
  • Will temporary sanctions relief in the interim agreement lead to the collapse of the sanctions regime assembled by the West since 2011?

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Should the United States pass more stringent sanctions against Iran?

Analysis that would lead one to say YES

  • Congress could pass sanctions, but wait to implement them, in order to add pressure on Iran to continue negotiating a final agreement.
    • Dennis Ross (11/11/13): “There should be no illusions about what happens if diplomacy fails to significantly roll back the Iranian nuclear program. We don't do Rouhani any favors if the appearance takes hold that there will be no more sanctions—even if there are no more agreements. From that standpoint, why not accept an approach in which the Congress adopts the next wave of sanctions but agree that they will not be implemented until the end of the six month period of the first step agreement or a clear break down of diplomacy?”

Analysis that would lead one to say NO

  • Diplomatic leverage produced through the sanctions regime may have bottomed out.
    • Colin Kahl and Alireza Nader (10/14/13): “Despite the current pain, Iran is not facing imminent economic collapse. This may be a dark period in Tehran, but Khamenei likely believes that Iran weathered worse times during the Iran-Iraq war.”
    • Djavad Salehi-Isfahani (10/9/13): “Unlike political systems, economies do not collapse, they shrink…If sanctions tighten, Iran’s economy will continue to slide for a year or two but will eventually reverse course. Per capita income will probably fall from about 20% below Turkey today to 30% below, but still more than 50% above that of Egypt. This doesn’t foreshadow a collapse as much as it does a slow adjustment to more difficult circumstances.”
  • Additional sanctions would bring unnecessary risks that could jeopardize talks.
    • Robert Einhorn (11/14/13): “We don’t know how great the risks are that new sanctions will undermine negotiations. But there is clearly a risk. Members of Congress need to look down the road and consider what choices will have to be faced if their actions inadvertently undercut the best opportunity we’ve had in years for resolving the Iran nuclear issue peacefully.”
  • If United States appears uncompromising, international support for the sanctions regime could evaporate.
    • Robert Einhorn (11/14/13): “What if new sanctions make Iran look like the reasonable party and us the intransigent one and this results in the erosion of international support for sanctions?”
  • If looming sanctions are hung over their heads, hardliners in Iran will move to scuttle a deal.
    • Robert Einhorn (11/14/13): Some members of Congress “suggest that Congress should enact a law that provides for tough new sanctions but delays their imposition for several months to see if diplomacy succeeds…While this approach is neat in theory, Tehran is unlikely to grasp the nuance. Iranian opponents of a deal will argue that this would amount to negotiating with a gun to their heads, and they could succeed in reining in Iran's negotiators and sabotaging any likelihood of a deal.”

Will temporary sanctions relief in the interim agreement lead to the collapse of the sanctions regime assembled by the West since 2011?

Analysis that would lead one to say YES

  • Small cracks in the sanctions edifice will weaken resolve of firms to abide by sanctions, and they will instead find ways to profit by doing business with Iran.
    • Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister (11/17/13): If “all of a sudden you take off the pressure, everybody will understand that you are heading south. You're really going to be in danger of crumbling the sanctions regime.”
    • Sima Shine (11/22/13): "There is one very important element that you cannot measure, which is the one of the psychological atmosphere. It will open an opportunity, and the business community is eager, eager to jump into Iran. It will be kind of an understanding that we are in the direction of relieving sanctions. Everybody will be looking to both sides to see that the others are not jumping before them."
  • Peace and arms-control agreements are often not enforced when broken, so it stands to reason that sanctions will not be increased if Iran goes back on its word.
    • Douglas Feith (11/18/13): “After World War I, the Versailles and Locarno Treaties subjected Germany to arms-control measures, including demilitarization of the Rhineland. When Germany's Nazi regime boldly remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, neither Britain, France nor any other treaty party took enforcement action.”

Analysis that would lead one to say NO

  • Financial sanctions will remain in place, discouraging firms from investing in Iran.
    • Robert Einhorn (11/22/13): "Yes, there are businesses that would like to get back into the Iran market. But the financial sanctions will remain in place against Iranian banks, so getting financing for commercial operations with Iran will not be easy."
  • United States will continue to vigorously enforce sanctions.
    • President Obama (11/23/13): "The broader architecture of sanctions will remain in place and we will continue to enforce them vigorously.  And if Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six-month phase, we will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure."
  • Firms will not skirt or break the law to do business with Iran because of the highly charged political and regulatory environment, and they will not rush into Iran because of the risk that sanctions will be reimposed in only 6 months.
    • Samuel Cutler (11/21/13): “Any firm that rushed back into the Iranian market beyond the scope of existing sanctions would then be left with significant regulatory exposure, having to explain itself in a political atmosphere poisoned by the failure of the P5+1 talks. Newer, tougher sanctions would surely follow, along with calls to redouble efforts to identify and punish violators.”