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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Iran Sanctions

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The current objective of international sanctions—to compel Iran to verifiably demonstrate that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful uses—may be on its way to achievement but has not been accomplished to date. The international coalition that is imposing progressively strict economic sanctions on Iran has broadened and deepened, producing significant effects on Iran’s economy. U.S. officials believe that these sanctions—which are now harming Iran’s oil export lifeline— caused Iran to return to the nuclear bargaining table in 2012 with greater apparent intent toward resolution. Many judge that Iran needs an easing of sanctions because the energy sector provides nearly 70% of Iran’s government revenues. Iran’s worsening economic situation is caused by

  • A decision by the European Union on January 23, 2012, to wind down purchases of Iranian crude oil by July 1, 2012. EU countries buy about 20% of Iran’s oil exports. This embargo is coupled with decisions by several other Iranian oil customers to substantially reduce purchases of Iranian oil in order to comply with a provision of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 112-81, signed December 31, 2011). 
  • Together, these sanctions have reduced Iranian oil exports to about 1.2 million to 1.8 million barrels per day, down from an average of 2.5 million barrels per day for all of 2011, according to the Energy Information Administration in June 2012. This loss of sales is causing Iran to store oil aboard tankers and to reduce production somewhat. Once the EU embargo is fully implemented, Iran’s oil sales might fall further, and Iran is widely assessed as unable to indefinitely sustain that level of lost oil sales. The Iran oil purchase reductions also symbolize burgeoning international cooperation with U.S. and allied attempts to pressure Iran significantly. 
  • The willingness of other oil producers with spare capacity, particularly Saudi Arabia, a strategic rival, to sell additional oil to countries cutting Iranian oil buys. 
The signs of economic pressure on Iran are multiplying. The value of Iran’s rial has dropped by about 50% since September 2011. Iran is virtually cut off from the international banking system and is increasingly forced to trade through barter arrangements rather than hard currency exchange. Many major international firms have left the Iran market, many Iranian firms are reported to be closing and laying off workers, and the effect on the energy sector has been further deterioration of its oil and gas production. Still, Iran has small amounts of natural gas exports; it had none at all before Iran opened its fields to foreign investment in 1996. Relatively high world oil prices have reduced some of the effects of the sanctions.

Despite the imposition of what many now consider to be “crippling” sanctions, some in Congress believe that economic pressure on Iran needs to increase further and faster. In the 112th Congress, legislation such as H.R. 1905 has passed the House and the Senate. Both versions, which contain some similar provisions, would enhance both the economic sanctions and human rights-related provisions of previous Iran sanctions laws, although the effects on Iran are not likely to be dramatic. 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: June 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 82
Order Number: RS20871
Price: $29.95

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