January 27, 2015 | Monograph
The Case for Deadline -Triggered Sanctions on Iran
To date, the Iranian government remains unwilling to come into compliance with its international obligations. At the same time, as the Obama administration has lowered its nuclear demands, U.S. negotiating leverage has diminished. If anything, the administration has accommodated the red lines laid out by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. The administration deserves credit for its attempt to find a compromise with Iran through a diplomatic process. However many of its specific overtures have only hardened Iranian nuclear intransigence, as the search for a comprehensive agreement between the West and Iran enters the sixth year for the United States and the twelfth year for the Europeans.
The largest obstacle to a deal right now, after Iranian intransigence, is the Obama administration’s assumption that it has sufficient leverage to conclude an acceptable final deal. After a successful period of escalating congressionally-mandated sanctions targeting the Iranian economy, passed over the objections of the Obama administration (which subsequently embraced them), the White House has provided a financial lifeline to Iran in the form of sanctions relief. After receiving what will be about $12 billion in repatriated oil revenues by June 30, 2015, and many billions more in ancillary benefits, Iran’s economy has stabilized and is on a modest recovery path. This comes after a severe sanctions-induced recession of 2012 and early 2013. The Iranian economy has undeniably benefited from both the direct and indirect economic relief provided as part of the November 24, 2013 Joint Plan of Action, which is on its second extension to June 30, 2015. This has reduced Iranian regime fears of another economic crisis and increased economic resilience against future pressure.
The net result is that Western negotiating leverage has decreased. Only deadline-triggered sanctions can help Washington regain that leverage. These sanctions carry some risk, but that risk can be mitigated. More importantly, the benefits outweigh the risks. Indeed, deadline-triggered sanctions are necessary to increase the pressure on Iran to reach a nuclear agreement that will verifiably prevent Iran from retaining a nuclear weapons capacity.