Sanctions Removal or Sanctions relief? A Bridgeable Gap

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

A new study has just been released that tabulates billions of dollars of trade loss for the US as a direct result of the Iran sanctions. This means the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and an unhealthy barrier to world trade that, most experts agree, harms the sanctioning states perhaps as much as the Iranian target of sanctions. Such reports simply underscore the need to bring the Iran nuclear crisis to a speedy closure, instead of lingering it under one excuse or another.

But, whereas the Geneva "Joint Plan of Action" specifically refers to the removal of Iran sanctions as part of a final and comprehensive agreement, there is a growing tendency in the West to refrain from using the vocabulary of removal or ending the sanctions and putting the accent simply on "relief."

Thus, for example, a new report by the right-of-center think tank, Center for A New American Century, has delved into the "prospects for sanctions relief" as a result of a final agreement, i.e., a questionable approach that is both contrary to the Geneva agreement and to US's own interest, in light of the new study above-mentioned.  This approach, favored by many anti-Iran hawkish US lawmakers leaves the sanctions regime intact, albeit in a watered-down version, in direct contradiction to the Iranian aspiration to free the country from the sanctions' shackles.

Not only the US sanctions laws on Iran would remain intact if this approach is upheld by the US government, and the entire edifice of sanctions regime barely touched at least on the legal ground, the "reversible" sanctions relief would be rather too easily achievable, unencumbered by the necessity of new legislation. 

Another additional problem is the conflation of nuclear-related sanctions with the non-nuclear sanctions, such as those imposed by the excuse of human rights or terrorism.  Hypothetically, the US can promise to lift some aspects of the Iran sanctions and then turn around quickly and re-impose them under the justification that they are necessary by these other considerations. 

Unfortunately, at the moment there is little prospect for a parallel effort to remove the non-nuclear sanctions, as a result of which the Iran sanctions regime is subjected to a wholesale review in the west, only a partial one, but one that is bound to grow more problematic as time goes on and it becomes more and more apparent that these sanctions have disproportionate impact on the sanctioning regimes themselves. 

Clearly, the US policy-makers cannot have it both ways, that is, seek a nuclear breakthrough while sticking to their guns on the sanctions. They must adopt a "dose of realism," to paraphrase Hossein Mousavian, a former negotiator in his latest opinion piece in Financial Times, and a heavy one at that since token remedies are not sufficient and simply raise Iran's suspicion about the West's intentions.

Still, the gulf between sanctions removal and sanctions relief is not unbridgeable and the dynamism set into motion by the latter can possibly trigger the latter. This is due to the dialectic of world economy today and the momentum toward unfettered global trade with Iran, which has already caused a rift in the Western camp as the Europeans keep weary eyes on hefty US penalties for companies and banks accused of violating the sanctions. 

After all, agreements on paper are one thing, the force of reality dictating its own parameters quite another. In turn, this requires a dynamic outlook and proper understanding of the complexities and nuances of world trade today, which militate against a robust Iran sanctions regime after the signing of a final agreement. An overly textual analysis of such an agreement may run the risk of oversimplification and even oversight of the new trend against the pillars of sanctions regime set into motion by any such agreement. Rather, it is important to keep in proper perspective the new anti-sanctions forces unleashed by the final agreement, i.e., the new facts overtaking the outdated, and increasingly unpopular, laws, particularly those that as the new report mentioned above makes abundantly clear, run against the US's own national interests.

*Kaveh Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown's Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.

Key Words: Sanctions Removal, Sanctions relief, US Trade Loss, Joint Plan of Action, Iran, Global Trade, US National Interests, EU, Afrasiabi

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