July 20, 2015 | NPR

A Look At How Sanctions Would ‘Snap Back’ If Iran Violates Nuke Deal

original transcript by NPR


The other country, of course, that has an evolving relationship with the United States is Iran. The nuclear deal reached with Iran last week was endorsed, as expected, by the United Nations Security Council this morning. All five permanent Security Council members – the U.S., Britain, Russia, China and France – were part of the negotiations. What's unusual about this resolution is the type of sanctions it might one day impose. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Knowing how difficult it is to approve sanctions in the Security Council and avoid Russian vetoes, negotiators came up with a novel approach. And it's a big part of President Obama's sales pitch to Congress and to U.S. allies.


BARACK OBAMA: If Iran violates its commitments, there will be real consequences. Nuclear-related sanctions that have helped to cripple the Iranian economy will snap back into place.

KELEMEN: And he says the U.S. doesn't need Russia or China get on board. In a way, the negotiators managed to flip the veto around. So if the U.S. believes Iran is violating the deal, Washington can bring those concerns to the Security Council, and sanctions would be re-imposed, unless the council votes to block that from happening. And in that case, the U.S. could counter with its veto power to make sure the sanctions are re-imposed. This arrangement will last for 10 years, though U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman says the permanent five Security Council members have already talked about extending the U.N. resolution.

WENDY SHERMAN: They will introduce an additional resolution to put in place the same mechanism for an additional five years.

KELEMEN: Critics of the deal she and others negotiated say there is a big deterrent for these snapback sanctions.

MARK DUBOWITZ: Iran actually has its own snapback. It has a nuclear snapback.

KELEMEN: That's Mark Dubowitz, a sanctions expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has been campaigning against what it calls a flawed deal. The text states clearly that if sanctions are reinstated in whole or in part, Iran would treat that as grounds to stop performing its commitments in whole or in part. And Dubowitz thinks this will make the U.S. and Europe hesitate before bringing any concerns to the Security Council.

DUBOWITZ: The only thing you'll take to the Security Council are massive Iranian violations because you're certainly not going to risk the Iranians walking away from the deal and engaging in nuclear escalation over smaller violations.

KELEMEN: Diplomats argue that there's no incentive for the Iranians to sneak out of the deal with smaller violations. Iran wants to get out from under not just the U.N. sanctions, but also the more biting European and U.S. oil and financial restrictions. Iran's foreign minister used to come to the talks with a chart of all the sanctions against his country, and one negotiator said it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. So untangling all that will take time. But Dubowitz worries that over time, the idea of re-imposing sanctions, the snapback, will have less meaning, especially in Europe.

DUBOWITZ: And it will be very difficult to convince European companies to leave Iran again. It took decades to convince the Europeans to leave the first time. And that was in a context where Iran was under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and was considered an international pariah. In five, 10, 15 years, circumstances may change significantly, and we may never be able to get the Europeans back out of Iran.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration argues that the sanctions were put in place to draw Iran to the negotiating table, and sanctions relief had to be part of the deal. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.


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