- The United States has had sanctions on Iran for most of the period since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with sanctions becoming broader since 1995 and expanded further since 2005.
- U.S. sanctions have been controversial on many scores, with vigorous debates about their impact and their negative side effects.
- U.S. sanctions have been maintained largely because the alternatives were less attractive.
- Taking a moral stance against human rights abuses in Iran
- Deterring other countries from taking the same nuclear route as Tehran
- Signaling international disapproval
- Delaying and disrupting Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs
- Helping the democratic opposition
- Crippling the country, or at least the government
- Using sanctions as leverage to open fruitful negotiations on the nuclear issue or perhaps on a broader set of issues
- Persuading Iran to halt its uranium enrichment efforts.
- Sanctions on Iran allow much more people-to-people exchange than embargos on Cuba. U.S. restrictions on exports and imports do not cover travel (or travel-related payments), donations of articles intended to relieve human suffering (such as food, clothing and medicine), gifts valued at $100 or less, or "informational materials" defined broadly to include films, posters, photographs, CDs and artwork.
- Some U.S.-Iran trade continues, especially in food. Iran is a large wheat importer; some years, it buys as much as $200 million in U.S. wheat. From 1998 to 2010, Americans could legally buy Iranian handicrafts and foods. U.S. purchases never reached $50 million in a year; the main item was rugs. Some Iranian products faced other restrictions: Caviar was limited by the international agreement for conserving the endangered Caspian sturgeon, and pistachios faced a stiff countervailing duty imposed after California pistachio growers complained about dumping.
- Some trade is surprising. U.S. airlines pay several million dollars a year in fees to the Iranian government for air traffic control services while overflying Iran. Taking advantage of the peculiar U.S. classification of tobacco as a food for trade purposes, Iran bought large amounts of American cigarettes one year.
- While Iran has often complained that the United States does not allow Iran Air to buy spare parts for its aging Boeings, in fact, the Bush administration issued a license for such exports but Boeing has been unable to make a sale.
- In 1992, before the Clinton administration toughened sanctions, the United States was Iran’s sixth largest source of imports; U.S. exports were $748 million.
- U.S. sanctions on Iran have drawn harsh criticism over the years, but sanctions have intensified under five presidents, indicating a broad bipartisan consensus that, for all their faults, sanctions are an important part of the U.S. policy mix towards Iran.
- U.S. sanctions were widely criticized in the 1990s for being unilateral, yet U.S. action was eventually a spur to a broad international consensus, including a series of U.N. sanctions since 2007. By 2010, European governments that had long criticized U.S. sanctions policy had adopted much the same approach, imposing restrictions on wide swatches of the Iranian economy.
- There is no agreement among U.S. officials on the specific objectives of sanctions on Iran, which makes it hard to judge how successful they have been. Sanctions have facilitated some goals. But they have not had any success in persuading Iran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency on its controversial nuclear program.
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“The Iran Primer” brings together 50 top experts—Western and Iranian—in comprehensive but concise overviews of Iran’s politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and nuclear program. Each link connects to a complete chapter on one of 62 subjects in 10 categories. Printable PDF attachments also are at the bottom. Timely analysis is added weekly. The book also chronicles U.S.-Iran relations under six U.S. presidents. It probes five policy options. And it offers timelines, bios of top leaders, and data on nuclear sites and specific sanctions resolutions. And it provides context and analysis for what lies ahead. Click here to order the book.