The Argument Against New Sanctions on Iran

No negotiation process is easy or smooth, particularly between long-time rivals. Some Westerners are worried that Iran can’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith. Some would like to demand that the country’s entire nuclear infrastructure dismantled, or feel that if earlier sanctions were good, more would be better.

It’s now a little more than a month into the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the six-month agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the US, UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany). The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that Iran is complying with the deal, stopping or rolling back critical parts of its nuclear program, and cooperating with IAEA officials who have daily access to the country’s nuclear facilities. In return, the international community has lifted or reduced sanctions imposed as part of a global effort to compel Iran away from a nuclear path.


While these concerns and doubts might be understandable, they fail to take into consideration the fact that Iranians have concerns, too – as do the other P5+1 nations.

Imposing new sanctions now would be meeting cooperation with reprisal. Such an approach isn’t likely to build confidence with Tehran, or encourage its government to keep engaging with Western powers.

Furthermore, the JPOA commits the UN, the EU, and the US Administration (“consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress”) to no new sanctions. While Congress could choose to act against the spirit of this agreement, doing so would violate a commitment made not just to Iran, but to our international allies as well.

If, on the other hand, Iran stops keeping its side of the bargain, or tries to push off a long-term agreement, new sanctions could be a useful tool. Indeed, if Tehran chooses to violate the JPOA, it will do so in the knowledge that harsher sanctions await.


The world is right to be concerned about the possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons development, but under the JPOA, all activities necessary to build such weapons have been halted. Iran doesn’t have any nuclear weapons to date, and its current nuclear infrastructure is permitted under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has signed.

To declare that daily inspections are insufficient, or insist that Iran dismantle its entire nuclear infrastructure, isn’t realistic – and it’s not in keeping with the agreement that Tehran so recently signed with six world powers.


Of course, many observers are also rightly concerned about other issues, such as Iran’s involvement in Syria, its poor human rights record, or the regime’s support for terrorism. It would be a mistake, however, to link anything else to the question of Iran’s nuclear program. To do so would dangerously slow progress on the nuclear issue, a matter of incalculable security importance to the US. When a long-term agreement is realized, there will be greater room to focus on other questions.

The fact is that the Iranian leadership also faces pressures and expectations. If we make demands that go far beyond concessions that it’s already made, we threaten the future of negotiations – and doing so would indicate that we’re less interested in reaching a lasting agreement, than we are in punishing Iran.

Instead, it makes more sense to forge ahead with the framework now in place. Anything else will hinder a solution that that requires Iran to limit its enrichment to practical needs, along with all the transparency necessary to prevent it from going around those limitations.

In short, rather than help, new sanctions are more likely to undo all that we have already achieved.

For a little background on the basics of Iran’s nuclear program, click here