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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Iran Sanctions

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

There appears to be a growing international consensus to adopt progressively strict economic sanctions against Iran to try to compel it to compromise on its further nuclear development. Measures adopted since mid- 2010 by the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, and several other countries complement the numerous U.S. laws and regulations that have long sought to try to slow Iran’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and curb its support for militant groups. The U.S. view—increasingly shared by major allies—is that sanctions should target Iran’s energy sector that provides about 80% of government revenues, and try to isolate Iran from the international financial system. U.S. efforts to curb international energy investment in Iran’s energy sector began in 1996 with the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), a U.S. law that mandates U.S. penalties against foreign companies determined to have invested in Iran’s energy sector. ISA represented a U.S. effort, which is now broadening, to persuade foreign firms to choose between the Iranian market and the much larger U.S. market.

ISA has been expanded significantly in 2010. In the 111
th Congress, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (H.R. 2194, P.L. 111-195) adds as ISA violations selling refined gasoline to Iran; providing shipping insurance or other services to help Iran import gasoline; or supplying equipment to or performing the construction of oil refineries in Iran. This law also adds a broad range of other measures further restricting the already limited amount of U.S. trade with Iran and restricting some high technology trade with countries that allow WMD-useful technology to reach Iran. The enactment of this law followed the June 9, 2010, adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposes a ban on sales of heavy weapons to Iran and sanctions many additional Iranian entities affiliated with its Revolutionary Guard, but does not mandate sanctions on Iran’s energy or broad financial sector. European Union sanctions, imposed July 27, 2010, align the EU with the U.S. position, to a large extent, by prohibiting EU involvement in Iran’s energy sector and restricting trade financing and banking relationships with Iran, among other measures. National measures announced by Japan and South Korea in early September 2010—both are large buyers of Iranian energy—impose restrictions similar to those of the EU.

The effectiveness of U.S. and international sanctions is, by U.S. official accounts, is improving substantially as a result of the number of countries joining an Iran sanctions regime. There is a consensus that U.S. and U.N. sanctions have not, to date, caused a demonstrable shift in Iran’s commitment to its nuclear program—the key strategic objective of the sanctions. However, U.S. officials say that the cumulative effect of U.S., U.N., and other country sanctions is harming Iran’s economy to the point where domestic pressure could build on Iranian leaders to accept a nuclear compromise. Among other indicators, there has been a stream of announcements by major international firms during 2010 that they are exiting the Iranian market. Iran’s oil production has fallen slightly to about 3.9 million barrels per day, from over 4.1 million barrels per day several years ago, although Iran now has small natural gas exports that it did not have before Iran opened its fields to foreign investment in 1996. Possibly in an effort to accomplish the separate objective of promoting the cause of the domestic opposition in Iran, the Obama Administration and Congress are increasingly emphasizing measures that would sanction Iranian officials who are human rights abusers, facilitate the democracy movement’s access to information, and express outright U.S. support for the opposition. For a broader analysis of policy on Iran, see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman. 

Date of Report: October 7, 2010
Number of Pages: 59
Order Number: RS20871
Price: $29.95

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