Resurrected Nuclear Sanctions Against Iran Set to Take Hold

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Trump signed an executive order Monday restoring nuclear-related sanctions on Iran that the Obama administration had suspended as part of the landmark Iran nuclear deal.

The restored sanctions will take effect on Tuesday and will target Iran’s automotive and precious-metals sectors, as well as Iranian currency, the White House said.

Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action when it was signed in 2015, the multination Iran nuclear deal was also endorsed by Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom. All of the countries agreed to lift economic sanctions from Iran in exchange for its commitment to halting its nuclear weapons program.

Trump made his opposition to the deal a focal point of his presidential campaign, however, and he formally removed the United States from it on May 8. On Monday, the president said Iran’s aggression in the Middle East has only increased in the wake of the agreement.

“As we continue applying maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime, I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism,” Trump said in a statement. “The United States welcomes the partnership of likeminded nations in these efforts.”

A day earlier, on the way back from an Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Singapore, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told reporters on Air Force One that the administration is hopeful of striking a way forward, but that doing so would involve Iran undertaking “enormous change.”

“They’ve got to behave like a normal country. That’s the ask. It’s pretty simple,” Pompeo said. “And so we think most other countries – everyone with whom I spoke understands that they need to behave normally, and they understand that this is a country that threatens them.”

European foreign ministers meanwhile have expressed regret about the move.

Noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance to date, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU remains committed to the deal.

“The European Union is determined to preserve it,” Mogherini said in a statement. “We expect the rest of the international community to continue to do its part to guarantee that it continues to be fully implemented, for the sake of our own collective security.”

Mogherini also noted that the deal is not bilateral. As such, he said no single country can unilaterally terminate it.

After the U.S. restores sanctions this week, it will target Iran’s energy sector and its central bank with second round of sanctions set to take effect on Nov. 4.

According to an Aug. 6 memo outlining the consequences of restoring sanctions, the National Iranian American Council said the move could undermine international efforts to continue abiding by the terms of the deal.

The failure of other nations to live up to the terms of the deal could prompt Iran to abandon part or all of the limitations the deal imposed on its nuclear program, the council said.

“This move is a dangerous gambit that pits the U.S. in opposition to the rest of the world – including the U.S.’s closest partners and allies – and risks reinvigorating nuclear proliferation efforts in Iran,” the memo said.

Echoing that concern, Suzanne Maloney – a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution – said that no one can predict with any certainty at what point the Iranians will break.

Maloney said in a phone interview that she and others had anticipated that Iran would react to the U.S. withdrawal from the deal more quickly than it has, which she called “an interesting outcome of the president’s decision.”

“Thus far they have remained committed to their obligations under the agreement, but there’s really no reason to anticipate that that will remain the case indefinitely,” she said.

Maloney pointed to domestic Iranian political incentives to continue the nuclear program, and to show that there’s a price to pay for America’s withdrawal from the agreement to explain why.

“I think the Iranians will want to demonstrate that the deal isn’t self-enforcing, that fundamentally it was a set of bargains,” Maloney said. “And that if one side isn’t fulfilling its end of the bargain, as the Iranians have done in the past, they will seek to make clear that they’re not prepared to continue indefinitely.”

Maloney also called the reinstated sanctions a “non-event” since it was expected after President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement back in May.

In terms of the value of Iran’s currency, the situation in Iran remains precarious, but Maloney said the Iranian government has passed the initial test of the impact.

“The government took some actions today to stabilize the currency and it appears to have had a positive effect,” Maloney said. “And so that will be important in terms of just demonstrating that  this isn’t going to spin out of control immediately. It doesn’t do anything to preserve the deal, it doesn’t really solve the problems that Iran’s going to face, but in terms of what this deadline meant, the kind of psychology and public impact was important.”

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