Europe Has an Easy and Effective Way to Sanction Iran—If It’s Serious about Doing So

November 11, 2022 | Richard Goldberg
About the author: Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He has served on Capitol Hill, on the U.S. National Security Council, as the chief of staff for Illinois’s governor, and as a Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer.

In a recent interview, the French president Emmanuel Macron called for a tougher approach to Tehran, reflecting a growing sentiment in Europe, brought on both by the Islamic Republic’s violent response to mass protests and its support for Russia. The EU is already considering issuing new sanctions. But if it wants to have a significant impact on Iran, Richard Goldberg explains, Europe should take advantage of UN Security Resolution 2231, which ratified the 2015 nuclear deal and suspended previous sanctions:

UNSCR 2231 also came with a “snapback” mechanism: a way for the original state parties to the Iran deal—the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany—to force the return of all prior UN sanctions if Tehran violates its commitments. With Iran today spinning enough advanced centrifuges to produce high-enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs, any party could at any time notify the Security Council that Iran is breaking its nuclear deal commitments. This would trigger a 30-day clock before all prior resolutions—and their restrictions—come back into force. Russia or China would then have the opportunity to offer a Security Council resolution to block the snapback, but it would be subject to the veto held by the other permanent members Britain, France, and the United States.

Besides the strong signal it would send to the regime in Tehran, completing snapback would have other key benefits. Snapback means the UN arms embargo would return, and the missile embargo, [set to expire next year], would stay.

By contrast, reviving the deal and allowing remaining UN sanctions to lapse means throwing Iran a financial lifeline when it is most vulnerable. Under the proposed terms of the shorter, weaker nuclear accord the United States offered Iran in recent months, Tehran would receive an estimated $275 billion in revenue during the first year, rising to $1 trillion total by 2030. Iran would retain the ability to expand its nuclear-centrifuge program with an eye toward the deal’s full expiration in 2031.

In short, the regime could fortify its economy, quash the popular uprisings, and emerge with an unstoppable nuclear threshold capability simply by saying “yes” to the deal on offer.

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