Demanding Better: A Just Vision for US-Iran Relations (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Sahand Yazdanyar, Fall 2021 Marcellus Policy Fellow

Iran may be the most sanctioned country in history and is currently the nation that the U.S. imposes heavily targeted sanctions against the most. The United States placed sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran ten days after Iranian students seized the American Embassy in Tehran in November of 1979. In response, President Jimmy Carter issued Executive Order 12170, freezing all Iranian government assets held within the United States, which began decades of sanctions against the Iranian people. The relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America has been one of animosity and tension ever since.

There is a need for the removal of unilateral economic and secondary sanctions against Iran, not only in the interest of the United States, but also in the interest of U.S.-allied countries (specifically European partners), and the interest of other countries in West Asia. By providing sanctions alleviation, engaging diplomatically, and allowing countries within West Asia to openly work with one another, the United States of America will find that the Islamic Republic of Iran will be more willing to cooperate with them – directly or indirectly.

The current sanctions policy against Iran does not work and in fact increases the likelihood that Iran will act in a manner that runs counter to U.S. interest. Because the Biden administration has left the sanctions component of President Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” strategy in place, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “Twelve Demands” of Iran can act as a metric of success; however, evidence shows that not even the more modest versions of Pompeo’s desired demands were met. For example, Pompeo’s likeliest unachievable goal of halting Iran’s enrichment program actually backfired and made Iran’s enrichment program more dangerous. In fact, the sanctions regime against Iran allowed for the Iranian government to strengthen their influence in the region, provided an outlet for them to turn toward China for support (as opposed to European allies), and ramp up both their missile and nuclear production programs.