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What The Changes To Iran Sanctions Mean


As we just heard, it's not exactly like Iran is open for business now that international sanctions have been lifted. To dive into the details of what is now allowed and what's still forbidden, we're joined by Richard Nephew. He was the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. team negotiating with Iran, and he left the State Department a year ago. Welcome.

RICHARD NEPHEW: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Well, as we just heard, the U.S. is keeping in place sanctions related to Iran's support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program. What else?

NEPHEW: Well, we're also keeping in place the architecture of the financial sanctions that really put the main squeeze on Iran's economy starting in 2010. And these sanctions allowed the United States government to prohibit anyone who does business with certain identified Iranian bad actors from doing business inside the United States.

SHAPIRO: But that sounds like it's targeted at individuals rather than huge sectors of the economy or industries.

NEPHEW: That's right. And the sectoral sanctions that have been doing the most damage to Iran have now gone away. But you know, there are some pretty important individuals and entities who are still on the designation list, you know? For instance, the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps is still sanctioned by the United States, will continue to be sanctioned by the United States for any foreseeable future. And they actually are in control of a large part of the Iranian economy. And so I think a lot of companies out there had better be very, very careful about who they do business with to avoid running afoul of those sanctions.

SHAPIRO: What's the reasoning behind lifting the U.N. sanctions but keeping these other sanctions still in place?

NEPHEW: Well, I think, you know, ultimately, the U.N. sanctions were put in place as a result of a, you know, global, multilateral compromise so long as we had a viable diplomatic path. Now that the diplomatic path has yielded a result, we were under an obligation to lift those sanctions. But we weren't under any obligation to lift our own unilateral controls or to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran. And so for our own bilateral, U.S.-centric view, we felt that we needed to keep the sanctions in place that governed U.S. persons behavior.

SHAPIRO: And when you look at U.S. businesses, some sectors now have huge new opportunities with Iran. Others don't. What determines who gets to play and who doesn't?

NEPHEW: Well, a lot of it is determined by simply humanitarian and civil society interests in the United States, you know? For instance, agricultural, medical, humanitarian goods - those are things we left off the sanctions simply for humanitarian reasons. The biggest area change is the aviation sector. And frankly, that comes from the fact that the Iranian government prioritized getting relief from those sanctions to avoid having all the old airplanes they still have in service from cashing out of the sky.

SHAPIRO: How much leverage has the U.S. lost with Iran by giving up these sanctions?

NEPHEW: Well, I think we've certainly lost some. I mean, the Iranian economy was in a nosedive starting in 2012 and going into 2013. But you know, that wasn't going to last forever. And I think a lot of people who have said, well, we should keep the sanctions in place, are forgetting the fact that over time, countries find ways of adapting or evading those sanctions. So we exchanged a waning and atrophying asset in exchange for a pretty good nuclear deal that will solved our problem for a good, long time.

SHAPIRO: What's the challenge for U.S. negotiators going forward now that they don't have this stick, now that they've given up this leverage?

NEPHEW: Well, I think the biggest challenge, really, is the more fundamental one. You know, getting Iran to stop its nuclear program was a pretty big challenge, but you know, we're now talking about stopping Iranian support for terrorism, something they consider to be a core part of their foreign policy. I mean, stopping support for Hezbollah is the equivalent of having the United States stop support for Israel. It's something that's just so serious and so significant for the Iranian government that I think the bigger issue is not the absence of sticks but the fact that they just simply don't want to do it.

So I think ultimately, what we really need to do is have a resolution to the broader Middle Eastern, you know, conflicts and difficulties that we've got, and that will entail over time Iran stopping, at least, support for violent extremism in places like, you know, Yemen, Syria and certainly in Lebanon.

SHAPIRO: Richard Nephew directs the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Thanks for joining us.

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

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