The United States is expanding its maximum pressure campaign against Iran. Earlier this month, a senior State Department official announced what he termed a “super maximum economic pressure campaign,” which would advocate new due diligence measures on maritime shipping and punish the storage of Iranian oil. These steps constitute a vital way to prevent Iranian sanctions evasion, which aimed to blunt the impact of Washington’s pressure policy. They also come during a time of intense uncertainty in Iran, as the regime continues to try to cover up the extent of the Coronavirus outbreak in the country.
To be clear, Washington’s sanctions guidance is a response to ongoing Iranian threats. They also remind the international community that even when faced with a public health crisis, Tehran is choosing to spend time and money on illicit activities abroad rather than the welfare of their own people at home. Therefore, the measures are likely to both increase pressure on the regime and highlight its mismanagement of the country, from the economy to the public health system.
Washington’s current maximum pressure strategy relies on compounding economic pressure to get Tehran to come to the negotiating table for a much broader agreement than the 2015 nuclear deal known as the JCPOA. Since leaving that accord in 2018, there have been three main vectors of American pressure: restored penalties once waived by the JCPOA; revoked waivers for previous purchasers of Iranian oil; and persistent designations designed to deter and disrupt Iran’s non-nuclear malign activities at home and abroad.
Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow covering Iranian political and security issues at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (@FDD). He frequently briefs Washington audiences on Iran-related issues and has testified before the U.S. Congress and Canadian parliament. Eric B. Lorber is the senior director of the Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP) at FDD. Previously, Mr. Lorber served as a senior advisor to the Under Secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence (TFI) at the United States Department of the Treasury.