22 September 2020   Leave a comment

On Monday, the Trump Administration imposed what it called “snapback sanctions” on Iran for what it termed were violations of the 2015 nuclear program agreement signed between Iran and the 5 Permanent Members of the Security Council plus Germany (technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA]). The decision was based on the original terms of the Agreement in the event of Iranian non-compliance, but the US pulled out of the agreement in 2018. The US insists that it is named as a participant to the Agreement and therefore it retains the right to insist upon the terms of the agreement even though it is no longer bound by the Agreement.

Most countries, including all the signatories to the JCPOA, reject the US interpretation. The US demand–that all countries refrain from trading with Iran–would be meaningless except for the fact that the US also asserts the right to sanction other states, individuals, or entities that do engage in trade with Iran. So far, there has been little of substance from the US action. CNN reports:

“A total of 27 entities and individuals that the administration say are “connected to Iran’s proliferation networks” were hit with sanctions or export control restrictions on Monday.

“Eric Brewer, deputy director and senior fellow with the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN that ‘so far, this is really all for show.’

“‘It looks like a lot of the new designations are individuals, sub-organizations, etc. of previously sanctioned entities. Also, these sanctions could have been done under existing executive orders without snapback,’ he said.

As Barbara Slavin, the director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told CNN last week, ‘it is still illegal under US law for American companies to sell arms to Iran. There is a European arms embargo, which will continue until 2023.’

“”The rest of the world will wait for US presidential elections and then make its decision about whether or not to sell weapons to Iran,’ Slavin said.

The isolation of the US on the matter is profound (only the Dominican Republic voted in the Security Council in favor of the US resolution to enforce the sanctions). Iran has certainly made changes to its nuclear program that are ostensibly forbidden, but it has assiduously avoided making any changes that would dramatically alter its ability to make a bomb within a period of a year. The New York Times published an editorial which emphasized the shortsightedness of the US position:

“The tragedy of the Trump administration’s approach is that it has alienated European allies who share the common goal of curbing Iran’s most worrisome behavior. The United States once stood shoulder to shoulder with not only France, Germany and Britain,  but also with Russia and China — to isolate Iran. Now, it is the United States that is isolated.

“The bigger question is whether the American efforts to invoke snapback will kill the nuclear deal, which the other parties have been trying desperately to keep alive. Iran had been widely seen as keeping its commitments under the deal until the U.S. exit. Afterward, it increased its production of fissile material, as a calibrated response to the American withdrawal.

“Now, the agreement is in tatters. If Mr. Trump is re-elected, the chances of reviving the accord are slim to none. Iran could walk away from the nuclear deal altogether and resume its previous levels of production of fissile material, which it claims will be used as fuel for a peaceful nuclear reactor. This will set Iran back on a collision course with the United States and Israel.”

Writing in Foreign Policy, Vali Nasr points how how counterproductive the US sanctions have been:

“Trump’s maximal use of sanctions has become a policy overreach that has alarmed both U.S. allies and adversaries, prompting not just concerted diplomatic resistance, but investments in economic countermeasures aimed at circumventing the U.S. dollar’s supremacy in the global financial order. For instance, last month Beijing encouraged Chinese banks to reduce their reliance on the SWIFT network commonly used to conduct transactions, and which is susceptible to U.S. pressure. China is clearly looking to diminish the United States’ ability to pressure adversaries by denying them access to international financial networks. Mounting resistance to U.S. sanctions will make it more difficult for Washington to rally international support to pressure Iran. That would require fewer U.S. sanctions, not more.”

It may be the case that the US strategy has nothing at all to do with the Iranian nuclear program. The US may be building a case for attacking Iranian facilities although no other states, other than Israel, would be likely to support military action. But the Trump Administration may be paying attention to only US domestic political opinion.

Posted September 22, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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