Iran sanctions: Is this ‘maximum pressure’?
President Trump launched his campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran this week, said Ellen Wald in Bloomberg.com, but it had a surprising loophole. Trump withdrew the U.S. from participation in an Obama-era nuclear accord with Iran in May, and promised to force Iran into renegotiating that deal with new economic sanctions barring other countries from trading with Iran or buying its oil. When the U.S. reimposed sanctions this week, it exempted eight countries, including Iran’s six biggest oil customers. Why? It will keep more Iranian oil on world markets than expected, protecting American consumers from a sudden rise in gas and oil prices. Trump’s hard-liners are digging in for “a long, cold war with Iran,” said Michael Gordon in The Wall Street Journal. They believe that by barring Iran from the world banking system and reducing its exports, the U.S. will badly weaken the already shaky Iranian economy, forcing Tehran to pull back on its financial support for its proxy groups in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Iran, meanwhile, hopes “to ride out the sanctions in the hope that Trump is a one-term president.”
This is maximum pressure? asked Philip Klein in WashingtonExaminer.com. Trump said the U.S. was done making “empty threats,” yet the oil-sanctions exemptions will allow billions to continue to flow into the mullahs’ coffers. The administration also stopped short of completely cutting Iran off from the international banking system, saying certain Iranian financial institutions could still use it for “humanitarian” reasons. If Trump is going to cushion the blow of sanctions, then “what was the point” of ditching Obama’s deal?
Trump fears the political consequences of a true hardball strategy, said Nick Cunningham in ForeignPolicy.com. Oil prices are up about 10 percent since Trump nixed the nuclear deal and took about 800,000 barrels of Iranian oil off the market. “American motorists are paying more at the pump—about $2.80 nationally—than at almost any time in the past four years.” That’s causing “the administration to squirm.” Trump’s strategy had another “huge flaw,” said Josh Rogin in WashingtonPost.com. Squeezing Iran’s economy requires cooperation from other countries, yet China is still buying Iranian oil and has no intention of stopping. This gives Chinese President Xi Jinping another weapon in his ongoing strategic battle with the White House. Iran, meanwhile, gets some of the money it needs “to wait out the Trump administration.”