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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Iran Sanctions



Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The principal objective of international sanctions—to compel Iran to verifiably confine its nuclear program to purely peaceful uses—has not been achieved to date. However, a broad international coalition has imposed progressively strict sanctions on Iran’s oil export lifeline, adversely affecting Iran’s economy to the point where key Iran leaders are considering the need for a nuclear compromise. Among the key causes of Iranian leaders’ worry:


  • Oil exports provide about 70% of Iran’s government revenues and Iran’s oil exports have declined to about 1.25 million barrels per day as of December 2012, a dramatic decline from the 2.5 million barrels per day Iran exported during 2011. The main cause of that drop has been a European Union embargo on purchases of Iranian crude oil that took full effect on July 1, 2012. 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). To date, twenty countries have been deemed in compliance. The loss of sales has caused Iran to reduce oil production to about 2.6 million barrels of day, from the longterm baseline close to 4 million barrels per day. Other oil producers, particularly Saudi Arabia, are selling additional oil to Iran’s customers, thus far preventing the lost Iranian sales from raising world oil prices. 
  • The loss of hard currency revenues from oil—coupled with the cut off of Iran from the international banking system and the decline of Iran’s foreign exchange reserves—caused a collapse in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, in early October. That collapse prompted street demonstrations and a halt to commerce by merchants who are uncertain how to price their goods. In response, Iran has tried to impose currency controls and arrested some illegal currency traders, although these steps are unlikely to restore public confidence in the regime’s economic management. 

Sanctions may be slowing Iran’s nuclear program somewhat by preventing Iran from obtaining some needed technology from foreign sources. However, Department of Defense and other assessments indicate that sanctions have not stopped Iran from building up its conventional military and missile capabilities with indigenous skills. Iran is also judged not complying with U.N. requirements that it halt any weapons shipments outside its borders, particularly with regard to purported Iranian weapons shipments to help the embattled Asad government in Syria. And, international sanctions targeting the regime’s human rights abuses do not appear to have altered Iran’s repression of dissent or its efforts to monitor public use of the Internet.

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 112
th Congress, H.R. 1905, P.L. 112-158 (“Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012”), makes sanctionable numerous additional forms of foreign energy dealings with Iran, including shipments of crude oil, and enhances human rights-related provisions of previous Iran sanctions laws. A Senate amendment to a FY2013 national defense authorization act (S. 3254), imposes sanctions on several key sectors of Iran’s economic infrastructure. 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: December 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 88
Order Number: RS20871
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