In a recent Foreign Policy article, Alireza Nader argued that U.S. sanctions on Iran have played an important role in preventing the country from acquiring nuclear weapons. To the contrary, because of their wording, the sanctions have been -- and still are -- a roadblock to resolving the nuclear issue. As they bite further, and with the value of the rial dropping precipitously, the sanctions are simply shifting the focus of anger in the Iranian street from the regime toward the United States.
As Nader correctly states, "the Iranian regime has not made any major concessions on the nuclear program." Because the sanctions were (ostensibly) designed to influence Iran's nuclear calculus, it is safe to say that they have objectively failed. There is a reason for this: The legislative text of the sanctions goes way beyond Iran's nuclear program and, in fact, provides a disincentive for Iran to cooperate with the United States.
As I have noted before, the sanctions can only be lifted after the U.S. president certifies to Congress "that the government of Iran has: (1) released all political prisoners and detainees; (2) ceased its practices of violence and abuse of Iranian citizens engaging in peaceful political activity; (3) conducted a transparent investigation into the killings and abuse of peaceful political activists in Iran and prosecuted those responsible; and (4) made progress toward establishing an independent judiciary."
Although these are certainly laudable goals, they complicate nuclear negotiations by establishing conditions that have nothing to do with the nuclear program. In fact, many U.S. allies could not satisfy all these conditions: The Bahraini and Saudi governments also crack down heavily on political protests, yet those countries remain unsanctioned by Washington.
So even if Iran were to completely shutter its nuclear program tomorrow, it would still be sanctioned by the United States. But if it's going to be sanctioned no matter what it does with its nuclear program, why should Tehran make any nuclear concessions at all?
In short, the sanctions are not working because they are not designed to work. Rather than being restricted to nuclear issues, they appear to be crafted to put more and more "crippling" pressure on the populace to -- one assumes -- agitate them to demand regime change.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement that the sanctions "will impose crippling economic pressure on the Iranian regime in order to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear program and other dangerous policies."
Nothing of the sort is happening. The nuclear-enrichment program is humming along (under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards), and other unnamed "dangerous policies" -- such as, perhaps, Iranian support of the Syrian regime -- also continue apace.
It is perfectly clear to the average Iranian who is to blame for her recent misery. In the past few months, as more and more of the sanctions have started biting, the ire of the Iranian people has increasingly shifted away from the regime's long-term incompetence, repression, and corruption and toward the United States and the West. Although the sanctions technically exempt food and medicine, sanctions on the financial system prevent Iranians from being able to purchase these items from abroad. Many critical medicines and humanitarian goods simply cannot be purchased by hospitals and other entities within Iran, leading to deadly shortages. Ahmad Ghavidel, the head of the Iranian Hemophilia Society, told the Washington Post recently that "This is a blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights."