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Iran Buckles Under Sanctions Pressure

By / 10.29.2010

The Obama administration won an important foreign policy victory yesterday as Iran skulked back to the negotiating table.  In other words, the latest rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN, United States, and European Union have worked.

To be clear, sanctions’ aim was never to “bring Iran to its knees,” as Supreme Leader Khamenei claimed in 2008.  Further, it’s easy to doubt their effectiveness when we we hear accounts that Tehran is skirting sanctions with fake bank accounts and false flags on ships’ registries. This narrative essentially implies that because Iran is evading sanctions, then they must not be working.

It’s exactly the opposite: Sanctions are imposed to make life difficult for Tehran, and stories about evasion are actually clear indications of their effectiveness.  Every second an Iranian official has had to spend time figuring out a way around a sanction is time he should be doing his regular job.

Sanctions have coincided with a significant economic reforms inside Iran, aimed at ending over $100b in government subsidies on everything from bread to energy.  Opaque attempts at economic reform appear to have been painful for average Iranians.  And while I am not enough of Iran expert to steadfastly link sanctions, a weakening domestic macro-economic situation, and Iran’s inclination to head back to the negotiating table, I’m happy to point out the not-so-odd coincidence.

Before we get too excited, it should be obvious that the outcome of new negotiations is far from certain.  Iran will likely play its tired game of engaging diplomatically while attempting to refuse meaningful compromise.  That’s why it’s crucial that the Obama administration, European Union, and UN not reward Iran just for talking.  To keep Iran from getting the bomb, the international community has to keep its boot on Tehran’s neck until the day it agrees to unfettered access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

photo credit: Daniella Zalcman