Why sanctions on Iran are not working

Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi write: As EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s lead envoy Saeed Jalili meet in Istanbul on May 15, the six global powers negotiating with Tehran face an increasingly inconvenient truth: while sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, they have not changed Tehran’s nuclear calculus. Although some policymakers and pundits privately concede this point, there is no consensus as to why. Hardliners tend to argue that sanctions are not tough enough and must be intensified. Elements on the left argue that sanctions must be given time to make an impact.

In reality, both sides miss the real reasons that have rendered sanctions unsuccessful – by failing to offer a credible exit from the sanctions pain, neither the Iranian government nor stakeholders in the Iranian system believe that a change in nuclear policy will lead to the alleviation of their economic suffering.

The current sanctions policy is based on a shaky assumption – the belief that economic pain and dissatisfaction among political elites automatically will result in pressure on the Iranian regime to change its nuclear course. This assumption does not hold. The economic pain imposed on Iran is intense – but directionless.

Instead, stakeholders in the Iranian system favouring a change are stuck between a dominant narrative that portrays the West as a brutal group out to “get” Iran and keep it dependent on foreign powers, and Western pressure that has failed to offer a convincing exit from the sanctions pain. The two have proven mutually reinforcing and have weakened those elements that the West hoped would push for a nuclear course correction. [Continue reading…]

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