Economic Sanctions on Iran Are Not Working

The combination of sanctions and diplomacy utilized by every president since Bill Clinton is failing. Can anything be done?

October 26, 2021 | Shay Khatiri
About the author: Shay Khatiri is a foreign-policy writer for the Bulwark and has a Substack newsletter, The Russia-Iran File, where he examines the domestic politics and foreign policies of Russia and Iran. Born and raised in Iran, he studied at the John Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies and is currently seeking political asylum in the United States.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers remarks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on February 17, 2021 in Tehran. Iranian Leader Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

When it comes to Iran, the Biden administration has replaced its predecessor’s policy of “maximum pressure” with one of “maximum deference”—or so runs the refrain coming from many intelligent observers. This line of reasoning isn’t, strictly speaking, wrong: the Biden White House has indeed sought to reengage Iranian negotiators with softer rhetoric, very different from that of the Trump administration. And it has quietly pulled back certain sanctions while signaling a willingness to make further concessions. But overall Joe Biden’s policies have not deviated substantially from those of the two previous presidents.

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