The evasion of US sanctions on Iran is escalating
The prospect of the Iranian regime coming to the negotiating table to revive the nuclear deal with the P5+1 (the UK, Russia, China, France, the US, and Germany) appears to be very slim.
For almost six months, the Iranian regime has stated that it will come to the negotiating table “soon” or in “the next few weeks.” The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell told the Iranian leaders: “We made it clear to the Iranians that time is not on their side and it’s better to go back to the negotiating table quickly.”
But the regime keeps stonewalling the nuclear talks. In September, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Tehran did not have any pre-condition for resuming the nuclear talks. “Every meeting requires prior coordination and the preparation of an agenda. As previously emphasized, the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks,” he said. A month later, the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi changed Iran’s position and pointed out that the US must lift sanctions if it is serious about the nuclear talks.
In the meantime, Iranian leaders continue to advance their nuclear program, and the breakout time — the period needed to manufacture enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon — is getting shorter and shorter. Even the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, stated in Oct. 19 that the Iranian government is “within a few months” of having enough material to build a nuclear bomb.
In further defiance, the Iranian regime is not giving full access to the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor its nuclear sites as was agreed in February. For example, Tehran is not permitting surveillance cameras to record activities carried out at the Tesa Karaj facility, which is located west of Tehran and produces centrifuges. The IAEA’s chief, Rafael Grossi, has been trying to reach out to the Iranian leaders to resolve this issue. But they are not communicating or responding. Grossi told the Financial Times: “I haven’t been able to talk to (Iran’s) foreign minister…I need to have this contact at the political level. This is indispensable. Without it, we cannot understand each other.”
One major reason that the Iranian regime is not returning to the nuclear negotiation is because the US sanctions have less impact in putting pressure on Tehran.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Why isn’t the Iranian regime taking the nuclear talks or warnings issued by the US and the EU seriously? It is partially due to the shifting economic conditions.
Although the US sanctions have had a negative impact on Tehran’s economy when first re-imposed in 2018, they have become less effective as more countries are ignoring and violating the US sanctions. Iran is finding customers to buy its oil in spite of the sanctions. The sanctions are not crippling the regime financially or bringing it to its knees. For example, before the US Department of Treasury leveled secondary sanctions against Iran’s oil and gas sectors in 2018, Tehran was exporting over 2 million bpd. In 2019 and 2020, Tehran’s oil exports dropped to less than 200,000 bpd, which represented a decline of roughly 90 percent in Iran’s oil exports. This occurred after the previous US government, the Trump administration, decided not to extend its waiver for Iran’s eight biggest oil buyers: China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea.
But in 2021, China has ramped up its oil imports from by Iran increasing to nearly 1 million bpd. In other words, Iran is exporting approximately half of the oil it used to export before the sanctions. Iran’s revenues heavily rely on oil exports, as the sale of oil accounts for more than 80 percent of the regime’s export revenues.
Furthermore, the EU has not joined the US in imposing sanctions on the Iranian regime. In fact, the European countries are still trading with Tehran in spite of the US sanctions. From January to July 2021, the EU’s trade with Iran was nearly $3 billion. According to the Financial Tribune: “Germany remained the top trading partner of Iran during the seven months under review, as the two countries exchanged €1.01 billion ($1.17 billion) worth of goods, 7.05 percent less than the corresponding period of the year before. Italy came next with €347.96 million worth of trade with Iran.”
Even if there is a decline in the EU’s trade with Iran, it is not large; the current trade still represents roughly 90 percent of pre-sanction trade between Tehran and the EU. Central Asian countries are also continuing to trade with the Iranian regime.
There is no incentive for Tehran to come to the negotiating table because it is still exporting and importing goods and oil at a good level.
One major reason that the Iranian regime is not returning to the nuclear negotiation is because the US sanctions have less impact in putting pressure on Tehran. More countries are disregarding and violating Washington’s red tape, which helps bring revenue to the Iranian regime. In spite of the US sanctions, China is importing oil from Iran, and the European and Asian countries are still trading with Tehran.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.