Uncertainty about the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme still poses a major challenge to the
international community, and to the Middle East in particular. More than ten years of negotiations have
brought no resolution to the dispute, so in recent years the EU and the US have upped the pressure on the
Islamic Republic. In January 2012 the EU adopted an unprecedented sanctions package, mainly directed at
the Iranian oil industry. Together with US measures, this strike at the centrepiece of the Iranian economy
was intended to force the Iranian regime to agree to demands of the international community in the
framework of the ‘E3+3’ (Germany, France, the UK, plus the US, China and Russia) negotiations, conducted under the auspices of EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton.
The aim of this Policy Brief is to assess how effective the current economic sanctions policy is and whether it
could contribute to a negotiated resolution of the nuclear standoff.
Eighteen months after the adoption of the oil embargo, figures show that the Iranian economy has been hit
hard by EU and US sanctions. Yet, considering the declared objective of changing the regime’s behaviour
vis-à-vis its nuclear programme, the results are rather unsatisfying. First, the impact on the Iranian economy
and the unintended side effects of sanctions have created a ‘rally-round-the-flag’ effect rather than provoke
domestic criticism of the regime’s nuclear policy. Second, the tough stance of the EU and the US has not
slowed down the nuclear programme; on the contrary, it has accelerated.
Instead of further isolating Iran, the authors argue for a return to a more balanced dual-track approach so as
to reinforce the moderate narrative within the Iranian ruling elite.
• Convince Iranians that sanctions are only directed at the military aspects of the nuclear programme, not
at civilian enrichment.
• Fine-tune the implementation of sanctions so as to prevent blocking of food and medicine.
• Engage European and Iranian civil society organisations with the help of informal ‘track II’ diplomacy
in order to dispel mutual misperceptions and look for solutions.
• Besides the gradual lifting of sanctions, project the extension of trade and security policy cooperation so
as to incentivise the Iranian regime to find a peaceful solution.
• Allow more time for negotiations. There should be no talk of a military strike on Iran before the E3+3
process has been exhausted.
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