‘Maximum pressure’ on Iran has failed: NY Times

April 11, 2021 - 22:11

TEHRAN – In a commentary on Saturday, April 10, the New York Times editorial board wrote that a return to the 2015 nuclear deal “is the first step out of the morass”.

Following includes the main parts of the article:

There exists now a brief window of time for Iran and the United States to return to the principles of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known to supporters and critics alike as the Iran nuclear deal.

In 2015, a group of world powers signed on to terminate some international sanctions if Iran gave up the most aspects of its nuclear program and agreed to robust inspections. The nuclear deal wasn’t a peace deal. It was an agreement to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully. In 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from that agreement, convinced that a new set of far more oppressive sanctions would cripple the country enough to humiliate it into accepting new terms more favorable to the United States.

But President Donald Trump’s gambit failed. The new sanctions have hurt the country. But they also prompted the Iranian government to restart nuclear work that it had given up. Other nations, including China, which worked closely with the United States and European powers to forge the nuclear deal with Iran, have grown weary of U.S. unilateralism and could resume doing business with Iran, one way or another.

That’s why Robert Malley, President Biden’s special envoy to Iran, spent this past week in Vienna negotiating the path back to U.S. compliance with the deal. Diplomatic niceties being what they are, European diplomats shuttled between the U.S. and Iranian delegations, which were holed up in separate hotels. The talks, which have been described as “constructive and results-oriented,” will continue next week. That’s cause for cautious optimism.

On offer from the United States is an end to most of the “maximum pressure” sanctions that the Trump administration piled on in an attempt to seal Iran off from the global economy. Those sanctions target a wide array of the country’s institutions, including its central bank, its oil ministry and the National Iranian Oil Company. Seyed Abbas Araghchi, the deputy foreign minister, has indicated that Iran could halt and reverse its own nuclear work if it is given the sanctions relief promised under the agreement.

Of course, the same old spoilers who never wanted a deal in the first place are loath to see the United States talk about resuscitating it. The most common criticism is that lifting the sanctions — honoring the United States’ old commitments — will squander leverage that has been accrued over the past three years. That’s the attitude of Republicans like Elliott Abrams, who served as Mr. Trump’s special representative for Iran, as well as Democrats like Bob Menendez, the New Jersey senator who leads the Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Menendez signed a recent letter from 43 senators that seems to call for sanctions to be kept in place until another agreement can be reached that puts deeper restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles program and its support for resistance groups in the region. That letter is more of a wish list than a starting point for talks. If Iran was inclined to capitulate to those American demands, it would have done so long ago.

At this point, the hard-line approach defies common sense. If the United States refuses to honor the first agreement, why would Iranians ever trust it to honor a second?

The uncomfortable truth is that “maximum pressure” sanctions are unsustainable. They haven’t changed Iranian behavior for the better. Quite the opposite. To punish the United States for refusing to hold up its end of the bargain, Iran has orchestrated calibrated violations of its own — to remind the United States what a world without the Iran nuclear deal looks like. Under the nuclear deal, Iran was allowed to enrich uranium up to a purity of 3.67 percent. It is now enriching up to 20 percent purity. Under the nuclear deal, Iran was limited to 202.8 kilograms of uranium. It is now estimated to have stockpiled three tons.

Under the nuclear deal, international inspectors were also allowed to investigate every inch of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle with little advance notice. Now, inspectors have been notified that they will lose that kind of access. In May, unless the nuclear deal is revived, international inspectors will lose visibility on what’s happening inside Iran’s nuclear sites. That status quo is not static.

The situation is also untenable in other ways. Sanctions on Iranian banks and European and Asian institutions that do business with Iran were originally intended to produce enough short-term pain to force negotiations. Leaving them in place indefinitely risks driving the entire economy of Iran, a sophisticated country of more than 80 million people, onto the black market.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned in 2016 that overuse of financial sanctions could backfire badly. If other countries tire of the U.S. threat to punish banks and businesses around the world that do business with Iran, they could begin to seek alternatives to the U.S. financial system. Not only will U.S. sanctions lose their power, but the centrality of American banks and the dollar’s status as the world’s dominant reserve currency could also begin to erode.

We’re starting to see glimpses of what can happen if sanctions remain for too long. China’s recent announcement of a plan to invest $400 billion in Iran’s oil, gas and transportation infrastructure in exchange for oil is a sign that China and Russia won’t abide by such onerous restrictions forever.

Most of all, the status quo is unsustainable because of the toll sanctions are taking on ordinary Iranians. Today, Iranians are dying from lack of insulin and other drugs. Although there are humanitarian exceptions to sanctions for the sale of food and medicine to Iran, the widespread use of sanctions against Iranian banks has complicated procurement efforts. Iran has also faced huge difficulties in paying for coronavirus vaccine because its foreign currency is frozen in banks overseas. It is not in anyone’s interests to have Iran remain a coronavirus incubator.

Yet hope springs eternal for hawks, like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who insist that the sanction-driven misery will miraculously cause the Iranian people to one day rise up, throw off the system and embrace the West. But uprisings in Libya, Syria and elsewhere have shown the folly of rose-colored fantasies.

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