Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Enforcing Sanctions On Iran


Yesterday in Vienna, representatives from Great Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia met with Iran's deputy foreign minister to discuss ways to try to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal. Of course, the U.S. has withdrawn from that agreement and threatened Iran with severe sanctions. Tehran now says it will decide in the coming weeks whether it will pull out from the accord. We're joined now by Elizabeth Rosenberg. She's senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and was sanctions adviser for the U.S. Treasury Department in the Obama administration. Ms. Rosenberg, thanks so much for being with us.

ELIZABETH ROSENBERG: Good to be with you.

SIMON: Iran must know how to handle sanctions after all this time, don't they? They've had to live under a lot of them over the past generation.

ROSENBERG: They have indeed. They've been subject to very serious, tough sanctions in the past not just from the United States but from the entire international community. That's involved restrictions on their energy sector, their banking sector and an array of other economic sectors.

SIMON: How have they gotten around them?

ROSENBERG: Well, in some instances, they haven't been able to. So during the period of most intensive, multilateral sanctions on Iran - this is 2012 to 2015 - they had great difficulty evading sanctions. It happened here and there, certainly when it came to sales of oil, certain cargoes or bartering - financial bartering - some smuggling activities. But the fear now is that, in an instance where there's unilateral sanctions on Iran, it may have ample opportunity to cheat and evade these sanctions.

SIMON: Unilateral meaning, of course, just the United States. So it'll be tougher for the sanctions to have any effect if, for example, China or Russia and, let's say, Germany don't go along.

ROSENBERG: Right, exactly. So right now the European Union, in general, and the E3, in particular, have - that being the United Kingdom, France and Germany - have expressed an interest in maintaining their commitment to the deal. And that means continuing to give Iran economic relief promised to it under the deal. That means potentially violating U.S. sanctions or creating ways for European companies to not abide by U.S. sanctions.

SIMON: And how does the U.S. respond, at least under this administration?

ROSENBERG: Well, this administration - officials from this administration have offered very strongly worded commitments to implement - reimplement - sanctions lifted under the Iran nuclear accord and add on more sanctions on non-nuclear areas pursuant to their concerns about ballistic missiles and terrorism.

SIMON: Would the effect of unilateral sanctions, as you see it, be enough to force Tehran to decide, no, we want to stay in the agreement and maybe even make one that the U.S. will accept?

ROSENBERG: Well, that depends on how other countries respond to the U.S. imposition and reimposition of these nuclear sanctions. Will the international community join the United States? Will they stand back and not directly challenge the United States? I think what Tehran will respond to most is what the Europeans in particular do to challenge the United States and its reimposition of sanctions or not.

SIMON: And based on your experience, Ms. Rosenberg, how much do France and the U.K. and Germany want to be different than U.S. policy in this regard?

ROSENBERG: Right now is the period of true testing of exactly that question. How independent do they want their foreign policy to be, given that there's a long-standing, close relationship between trans-Atlantic security partners and significant collaboration and interconnectivity in the economic sphere? So on the one hand, Europe wants to adhere to its own principles on foreign policy and economic relations, which lead it to diverge from the United States in the matter of this Iran deal. On the other hand, that may mean risking quite a lot.

SIMON: Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for a New American Security, thanks so much for being with us.

ROSENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.