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3. The role and impact of international sanctions on Iran


Overview, Ian Anthony, Mark Bromley and Pieter D. Wezeman [PDF]

I. Nuclear-related targeted sanctions on Iran, Ian Anthony and Mark Bromley [PDF]

II. Financial sanctions, Ian Anthony [PDF]

III. Trade sanctions, Mark Bromley [PDF]

IV. Conventional arms and dual-use items, Mark Bromley and Pieter D. Wezeman [PDF]

V. Travel and transport sanctions, Mark Bromley [PDF]

VI. Conclusions, Ian Anthony and Mark Bromley [PDF]

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed in July 2015 might not permanently settle disagreements over the Iranian nuclear programme but it has reduced tensions over the issue and provided a framework that could eliminate the risk of a serious crisis between Iran and the international community.


International sanctions were an important factor before the agreement and will remain one during its implementation. United States-imposed sanctions were in place prior to the escalation in tensions surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme. Following the escalation of the crisis, different types of sanctions were imposed on Iran: financial sanctions, trade sanctions, sanctions on the trade in conventional arms and dual‑use items, and travel and transportation sanctions. These sanctions spanned a broad range on the targeted through to comprehensive spectrum.


United Nations sanctions

The United Nations put in place targeted nuclear-related sanctions on the transfer of arms and dual-use goods and against Iranian individuals and entities; and other actors, first and foremost the USA and the European Union, applied considerably more extensive sanctions. These autonomous sanctions, which were not mandated by UN decisions, introduced restrictions that were called for in UN resolutions, but not required by them. Over time they also began to include certain kinds of sanction—in particular in regard to financial transactions—for which there was no clear reference point in UN decisions.


If more comprehensive sanctions are seen to have been an important factor in bringing about the conditions for the JCPOA, there could be a strong case for making extensive financial and commercial sanctions mandatory in future Security Council resolutions. This would at least partly reverse the recent trend for favouring more precisely targeted sanctions in order to reduce unintended secondary impacts.


Sanctions relief

The JCPOA opens the way for sanctions relief for Iranian individuals and entities. However, this relief is limited to nuclear-related sanctions and Iran remains subject to a number of other sanctions regimes. If it appears to Iran that the relief provided under the JCPOA is being undermined by measures applied in other sanctions regimes, this might be a threat to the agreement.


Understanding the role and impact of sanctions in regard to the Iranian nuclear programme is therefore important in its own right, but also as an indicator of the role of sanctions in international disputes.