Brief #47—Foreign Policy

Policy Summary
The Trump administration has responded to perceived transgressions by Russia and Iran with two new sets of sanctions this past month. Following through on the cancellation of the Iran deal, Trump has announced that, starting August 7th, restrictions will be placed on the Iranian government’s ability to purchase or acquire US dollar banknotes, trade in gold and precious metals, sell or transfer to or from Iran of graphite and metals – such as aluminum and steel- or conduct unspecified transactions relating to the Iranian currency, the Rial. Tariffs will also be placed on Iran’s automotive sector, Iranians will no longer be able to purchase US passenger aircrafts, and the US will no longer import Iranian carpets or certain foods. This November, additional sanctions will be placed on Iranian oil/energy imports, as well as financial institutions.

The stated goal is to cripple the Iranian economy to the point that the regime must end what the Trump administration calls its support for terrorism, and negotiate an end to its nuclear energy program. Trump said that the Iranian government “faces a choice: Either change its threatening, destabilizing behavior and reintegrate with the global economy, or continue down a path of economic isolation”. Mike Pompeo outlined American expectations for negotiations, demanding that “Iran end all nuclear enrichment and development of nuclear-capable missiles; release all American citizens end its support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Houthi militias; and withdraw its forces from Syria”. Woody Johnson, the American Ambassador to the UK, threatened “serious consequences” for businesses that continue to deal with Iran.

The Trump administration also announced sanctions on Russian exports in response to accusations that Moscow was behind the chemical attack in Britain last March, which targeted a former Russian spy. Immediately following the incident, the UK, US, and several other countries expelled over 100 Russian diplomats. These sanctions are legally justified under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, which requires the US to impose sanctions on any foreign power determined to have used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law within 60 days of assigning blame, a deadline now missed by over a month.

The first set of sanctions, due to take effect on August 22nd, will restrict exports to Russia for the purchase of items which could have military uses, such as gas turbine engines and calibration equipment. Russia also now has 90 days to provide assurances that they will allow inspections to placate fears of any future chemical attacks. If Russia does not comply, the Trump administration will impose a second set of sanctions, restricting bank assistance, exports and imports, air carrier landing rights, and US bank loans to Russia, as well as downgrading diplomatic relations. The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act, supported by a bipartisan group of senators, has the potential to further destabilize the Russian economy. If passed, it would freeze all dollar operations of Russian state banks. In response to this recent set of sanctions, the Ruble fell to its lowest value in two years.

The most important thing to keep in mind when discussing the destruction of the Iran deal, one of the most important pieces of Obama’s legacy, is that Iran has not violated the deal in any way. This fact has been confirmed by international inspectors. The European Union, Britain, France, and Germany have issued a statement saying that “The JCPOA [Iran Deal] is working and delivering on its goal, namely to ensure that the Iranian programme remains exclusively peaceful. Iran’s nuclear program has the stated purpose of building a foundation of cheap energy which would allow Iranian oil to be sold overseas. The enactment of the Iran deal in 2015 allowed Iran to recover from a disastrous economic recession. Like the most recent set, Obama’s 2010 sanctions were described as “smart sanctions”, designed to target the elite of the country rather than the innocent greater population. In reality, there was no such precision of consequence, with the percentage of Iranian families living in poverty almost doubling, and millions being left without access to essential medical treatment. Since the announcement of these newest sanctions, the Rial has dropped by 80%, causing protests around the country. These new protests will only further harm the middle and lower classes, creating hunger and unemployment.. Trump is not trying to simply coerce the Iranians into returning to the table to enact a newer, stronger Iran deal. Iran has no reason to expend the time and political capital to restart this arduous process. Iranian voters have less reason to support friendlier relations with America now, and Iran won’t want to make a new deal when the last one was cancelled through no fault of their own. What the Trump administration wants is further unrest, driven by the lower and middle classes, which could create an opening for an American-led regime change.

The Russian sanctions, while more justifiable, will contribute to similarly harmful conditions for many civilians who have had no part in the sinister actions of their oligarchy. The Defending American Security Act, if passed, would force Russia into an ultimatum which may not go the way Trump hopes. Either Russia will back down, or the oligarchy will be given a political mandate to act even more aggressively against the West.

Resistance Resources

  • Human Rights Watch – An organization dedicated to fighting oppression from a global perspective
  • Beyond the Bomb – An activist group looking to reduce the danger of nuclear war around the world.

This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Colin Shanley: Contact

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