If the U.S. Decides to Reimpose Sanctions on Iran, Its Allies Will Come Around

Oct. 10 2017

Reportedly, President Trump is considering decertifying the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic before the October 15 deadline, a move that would allow Congress to renew sanctions. Conventional wisdom has it that such sanctions will fail, since their success depends on the cooperation of American allies who will be much less willing than previously to go along. Citing the example of the 2011 legislation sanctioning Iran’s central bank—passed by Congress over the objections of the Obama administration—Richard Goldberg disagrees:

In a closed-door meeting, then-Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin begged and pleaded with the senators [sponsoring the legislation] to withdraw [it]. The United States would not be able to force its allies to go along with the plan, they said—the sanctions regime would fall apart, there would be global outrage and resistance, and gas prices would skyrocket. . . .

[However], every European and Asian ally that had come to Capitol Hill to lobby against [the 2011 sanctions bill] fully complied with it after it came into force. The measure was such a success that President Barack Obama claimed credit for it in his 2012 reelection campaign.

This wasn’t the first time that economic consultants, U.S. businesses, and both European and Asian allies opposed a unilateral congressional sanctions measure—and it wasn’t the last, either. But every time, history proved them wrong. . . .

Today, we are seeing the same old opponents of tough sanctions on Iran come out of the woodwork to warn President Donald Trump against threatening to reimpose a global financial embargo on Iran. Despite Iran’s refusal to allow inspections at military sites, continued testing of advanced ballistic missiles, expansion of its terrorist proxy armies into Syria and Lebanon, and holding of American hostages, former Obama administration officials argue that the United States has no choice but to keep its most powerful sanctions options in a lockbox for fear of European and Asian noncompliance.

Their arguments ring as hollow today as they did in the past. European and Asian businesses will oppose the reimposition of sanctions on Iran right up until the point they are reimposed. And then their lawyers will force them to comply—choosing continued access to the $19-trillion American financial system over Iran’s $400 billion.

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More about: Donald Trump, Iran, Iran sanctions, U.S. Foreign policy

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin