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How Much Pressure Is The U.S. Really Putting On Iran?


Next we'll ask how much pressure the U.S. is really putting on Iran. For years now the U.S. and other nations imposed economic sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. A temporary agreement last year said the United States would back off some of those sanctions while negotiators tried to reach a nuclear deal. But in an NPR News interview this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, said the U.S. is doing the opposite of what it promised.


JAVAD ZARIF: The fact is that the United States government has shown such an - for the lack of a better word, infatuation with sanctions that it has continued imposing sanctions, even though it had promised in the Geneva plan of action, which we adopted last November, not to impose new sanctions.

INSKEEP: The U.S. did promise not to impose new sanctions but also said it would continue enforcing sanctions still in place. So let's figure out what's really been happening. Juan Zarate is a former senior treasury official who over saw U.S. sanctions on foreign governments. Welcome back to the programs sir.

JUAN ZARATE: Thank you Steve. I appreciate it.

INSKEEP: So what kind of pressure is the U.S. keeping on Iran right now?

ZARATE: Well, keep in mind Steve the sanctions regime against Iran encompasses issues not just related to the nuclear file, but also state sponsorship of terrorism, support to the Assad regime in Syria, human rights abuses - even money laundering concerns. And so the U.S. has a full, sort of, universe of sanctions and thus continue to be implemented. The last version of this was in August when the U.S. added 30 entities and individuals - Iranians largely, for evasion of those sanctions, the nuclear program and continued support to Assad and so those measures continue to be enforced and implemented by the U.S. government.

INSKEEP: Oh, so it sounds like the Iranian foreign minister has something of a complaint here in that the U.S. is adding people to the sanctions regime as you go here, even though the U.S. would say it's still under the existing rules? Is that right?

ZARATE: That's right. There are diametrically opposed positions here. Iran and the Foreign Minister are presenting a maximalist approach to what unwinding or lifting of sanctions looks like. The U.S. though has said very clearly that it wants to keep existing sanctions in place until there's a deal obviously. Also for political purpose, the U.S. government and the administration has wanted to demonstrate that it's willing to continue to use these measures, impart to stave off additional Congressional action to add to the sanctions.

INSKEEP: Oh, now this is interesting. You're saying that the Obama administration needs to be tough on Iran up to a point because if not the political support for what it's trying to do with the nuclear deal would fall apart?

ZARATE: That's right, there are multiple audiences for this. Part of it has to do with Congress and the politics, part of it also has to do with the markets. The administration very much wants to still demonstrate that the sanctions can be effective, that they can be used for leverage at the negotiating table and they also want the markets not to open up too quickly to Iranian business.

INSKEEP: Especially Iranian oil I suppose we should say.

ZARATE: That's right and the Iranians have tried to host trade delegations and their message, and part of the messaging from the foreign minister, is that Iran is open for business and that these sanctions are going overboard and certainly aren't justified. That's the Iranian position.

INSKEEP: Well the Foreign Minister of Iran also complained about Iranians being arrested in countries in East Asia, for violating U.S. sanctions, which is not something he likes. Let's listen to some of that.


ZARIF: It's not a crime to violate U.S. sanctions in Malaysia or in Philippines or in Thailand. It's not a crime. U.S. sanctions are only applicable on U.S. territory. If somebody tries to buy night-vision goggles, for instance - in Malaysia, they've not violated - they've not committed any crimes.

INSKEEP: OK, so are Iranians being arrested in third countries for violating U.S. sanctions? Does that happen and should it happen?

ZARATE: Well, there's certainly laws in place, not just in the U.S. but around the world to control technology that goes to sanctioned countries. Keep in mind the U.N. has imposed a range of sanctions against Iran as well, and countries under Chapter seven of the U.N. obligations are required to implement those. So there are requirements internationally to control certain items going into Iran and certainly countries have started to implement that. I find it interesting that the foreign minister used the example of night-vision goggles, which in some ways fall in the category of military equipment and control technology. The Iranians do have a complaint here about the extraterritorial effects of U.S. sanctions, those have been incredibly powerful and I think that's in part what the Iranians are complaining about.

INSKEEP: Ok bottom line here, is the United States determined to keep press on Iran, even as it's negotiating with Iran.

ZARATE: That's right. It's trying to maintained leverage, trying to send signals to the market, and trying to demonstrate that it can continue to enforce existing sanctions, while negotiating for a larger deal.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much, a pleasure talking to you.

ZARATE: My pleasure Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Juan Zarate, who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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