By Javad Heirannia

EU resistance against U.S. on Iran is limited: Nephew

August 17, 2018

TEHRAN – Richard Nephew, who served as the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. team negotiating with Iran, is of the opinion that Trump believes that the Blocking Statute law “will be ineffective unless the EU is really prepared to retaliate against the United States for its sanctions policies and to make it costly on the United States to take these steps.”

The fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, says, “As it stands, the EU is not even fully prepared to penalize its companies for siding with U.S. sanctions over EU business arrangements.  This will undermine the effectiveness of this law.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: In a book entitled "Art of Sanctions", you have a belief that “In terms of human rights and propaganda, it is better for us that we don't put sanction on medicines and food, But without sanction on medicine and food, the Iranian people will not feel trouble and we will not reach our goal.” Is this allegation like the claims of realists, including Machiavelli, who say the end justifies the means? What do you think about this?

A: Well, first of all, I think that I didn't write that.  I believe that you will not find this language in the authorized version of my book.  I tend not to describe U.S. messaging as "propaganda" and, in any event, I searched my PDF version of the book and did not find these phrases.  This is a reason why I've discouraged people relying on the unofficial translation commissioned by the Majles.

As for the general point, though, I did point out that there would be damage done to the U.S. cause in persuading Iran to change its policies with regard to the nuclear program and other activities if we did not use all the sanctions tools at our disposal.  I said that it limited our ability to apply pressure and pain on the Iranian government when we chose not to use sanctions on medicine and food.  But, as your question suggests, we did not do this because we were not acting like Machiavelli, willing to say that the ends justify the means.  In fact, we took care to avoid such sanctions because we did not think that this was a cost worth imposing on Iran and the Iranian population.

So, my general point would be: yes, I agree with your thought that this would be too severe a set of sanctions...and that's why we didn't do it.  

Q: Some argue that the European Union laws does not have an effect to protect Iran against the impact of U.S. sanctions. In other words, the law is a new version of the "Blocking Statute" that the European Union approved in 1996 to protect Cuba against U.S. sanctions. In your opinion, how much this law is effectiveness to protect Iran against U.S. sanctions?

A: The law will be ineffective unless the EU is really prepared to retaliate against the United States for its sanctions policies and to make it costly on the United States to take these steps.  As it stands, the EU is not even fully prepared to penalize its companies for siding with U.S. sanctions over EU business arrangements.  This will undermine the effectiveness of this law.

Q: Previously, in 1996, without the Europe support, America put sanction on Cuba, and Europe did not accept these sanctions. Nowadays Is Europe still able to resist U.S. sanctions against Iran?

A: The EU could resist, but over the past twenty-two years, greater integration of the U.S. and EU economies has increased the risks that this would present to European businesses.  That's why I think you're not seeing as much resistance as in 1996.

Q: In Europe, economic companies have the right to choose and freedom, and the EU also does not want to restrict this freedom. Does the EU can push the companies to work with Iran? How the EU can force the companies to cooperate with Iran?

A: The EU cannot.  It can only incentivize and disincentivize.  But, as we're seeing, its ability to incentivize business in Iran if it creates sanctions exposure to the United States is pretty marginal.

Q: As the designer of Iran sanctions, you believe that the purpose of sanctions is to make the situation harder for Iran to changing its behavior. But in reality, is the U.S. trying to impose regime change in Iran?

A: I think that there are those in the U.S. government who believe the only way to change regime behavior is to change the regime.  There are others who may believe it is possible to get a decent, acceptable deal with the current Iranian government.

Who wins this debate will be important for the future direction of U.S. policy, including on sanctions.
 

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