President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and reinstate all U.S. sanctions won’t deliver punishing economic pressure capable of forcing Iran to submit to Washington’s policy demands. Along with diplomatic furor and a blow to nuclear arms control, the move also comes with damning unintended economic consequences for the United States.
The new U.S. policy involves snapping back all the sanctions on Iran that were removed in 2016 under the deal. Primary among them are the sanctions on Iran’s central bank and on its oil trade, the engine of the country’s economy.
Administration officials are betting that foreign firms that have invested in Iran and buy its oil will abide by the sanctions. They will also fan out around the globe to try to pressure foreign countries into joining the United States with measures of their own. Presumably the White House thinking is that the Iranian regime, once backed up against the wall, will capitulate or crumble.
This scenario is unlikely. Not every foreign company, bank, or oil trader will be inclined to comply with U.S. sanctions, particularly if their own governments are frustrated with the U.S. re-imposition of sanctions. There is no multilateral interest now in targeting Iran with financial pressure and diplomatic isolation, unlike during the 2012 to 2015 period of most intensive global sanctions on Iran.
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