Democrats behind most, toughest sanctions on Iran

TEHRAN, Nov. 12 (MNA) – Since the US political system is based on the policies of the ruling party, a review of the sanctions imposed by Democrats on Iran can be a good yardstick for judging the new administration's approach to Iran.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden has finally obtained entry into the White House as the winner of the 2020 presidential election in the United States. Some overjoyed by the election results, 11,000 kilometers away here in Iran, are trying to glam up Biden by claiming that the newly-elected President of the United States will pursue a completely different policy towards Iran and relieve the pressure of sanctions against the country. They are pretending that with the return of Joe Biden to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, everything would return to how it was on May 8, 2018: that Iran would resume its suspended commitments and the US government would lift the sanctions it had imposed on our country.

Regardless of the experts’ belief that it is basically impossible to return to the JCPOA era, the question now is whether the positions of the American Democrats towards Iran are really softer than the positions of their Republican counterparts? To answer this question, it is necessary to look at the history of US sanctions against our country and to examine the nature of sanctions imposed under democratic governments.

US and anti-Iran sanctions

Ever Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the United States has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Iran. These sanctions are either enforced directly in the form of executive orders by the US president, or the US Congress passes laws under which the US president imposes sanctions.

Of course, in almost all sanctions laws, the president has the power to stop the implementation of them, and in fact, the president has the power to enforce or not to impose the sanctions, as he is the one with the power to decide whether to enforce or suspend a law.

Since the Revolution, the US has enforced 39 laws and executive orders against Iran, the effects of which not quite the same. Some of these, such as the sanctions imposed before 1996, only restrict the export and import of goods from the United States or Iran to each other, and are in fact primary sanctions, while some others are merely military sanctions. Then, there are those sanctions with much broader dimensions.

For example, the sanctions imposed under the CISADA Act in 2010 during Obama’s presidency and Biden’s vice presidency, for the first time held all financial institutions in the world with trade ties with Iranian institutions viable to sanctions.

Furthermore, the sanction penalty for different laws is not the same. For example, after the issuance of Executive Order 13382 in 2005, many Iranian institutions were placed on the sanctions list, but US Treasury officials never threatened any institution to cut off their access to the US financial system. However, after the CISADA Act was enforced, US Treasury officials explicitly stated that all banks in the world must choose between working with Iran or the US dollar payment system.

Democrats behind the first and most sanctions on Iran

Of the 39 laws and executive orders that have been enforced against Iran, or based on which Iranian institutions have been put on the sanctions list, 23 sanctions have been enforced by Democratic presidents. Of these 23 laws or executive orders, 3 were imposed under Jimmy Carter, 5 under Bill Clinton, and 15 under the Obama's administration. Besides, many sanctions were first imposed by Democrats.

The use of the sanctions regime in foreign policy was first introduced by Democrats and the Jimmy Carter administration. It was under Bill Clinton that for the first time, secondary sanctions against Iran changed their nature from military to economic. Under the Obama administration, for the first time, the United States used the dollar to impose sanctions on the only country in the world, i.e. Iran, and declared in the CISADA Act to all banks in the world that in case of any transactions with Iranian institutions, the US would deprive them of having a dollar-based brokerage account. On the basis of these sanctions, the Obama administration also, for the first time, sanctioned the Iranian oil and the Central Bank of Iran in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Executive Order 13622 and 13599.

Democrats behind the toughest sanctions on Iran

A review of the sanctions imposed by the Democrats shows that the Democrats have expanded the sanctions over time and ultimately took them to the toughest possible level. Jimmy Carter issued three executive orders (12170, 12205, and 12211) against Iran during his tenure. These were mostly primary sanctions that barred the import of goods and oil from Iran to the United States, as well as banning American investment in Iran.

Under Clinton, three executive orders, 12957, 12959 and 13905, were issued against Iran, which put a ban on the export and import of goods and services to and from the United States, as well as a ban on the export of products which were more than 10% American from other countries to Iran. According to these executive orders, in addition to banning exports and imports between the two countries, American investment in various parts and sections of Iran, as well as providing guarantees and loans for exports or investment of any Americans institution in Iran were prohibited. During this period, two laws were also passed. One was the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, which for the first time introduced fines and penalties for the investment of any foreign company in Iran. In addition, Iran’s non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction was enacted and implemented in 2000, which included bans on the export of dual-use materials (military and non-military use) to Iran.

The Obama-Biden administration was the peak of US sanctions policy throughout history. During this period, with the implementation of the CISADA law, the United States declared to all banks in the world that it would deprive them of having a dollar-based brokerage account should they make transactions with designated Iranian institutions.

Under this law, as well as the 1975 executive order issued by Obama, sanctions, and penalties under the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) were also expanded and the export of petroleum-based products, including gasoline, to Iran was banned. Under executive orders 13553 and 13606, certain Iranian individuals and institutions were put under sanction under the pretext of human rights violations, and executive order 13590 sanctioned individuals and institutions active in the Iranian petrochemical industry.

Then, in accordance with the National Defense Authority Law for the fiscal year 2012 and executive orders 13599 and 13622, in addition to sanctioning important Iranian institutions, including the Central Bank, the US announced any transaction with the Central Bank of Iran or any attempt to buy oil from Iran would result in barring those banks from access to the US financial system and the dollar-based brokerage account. Thus, began a massive effort to cut oil sales and reduce Iran's access to foreign exchange.

The sanctions were expanded under the Iran-IFCA Threat Reduction Act, and in addition to sanctioning institutions such as the National Oil Company and the National Oil Tanker Company, any association of foreign banks with Iran or the purchase of oil from Iran would ban their access to the US financial system. The embargo then spread to the auto industry and some metals sectors in the next executive orders issued by Obama, namely Executive Orders 13645, 13628 and 13608, and more severe penalties were imposed on those who circumvented the sanctions.

The visa ban law, which required those who had traveled to Iran in the past five years to re-apply for a visa from the United States, was the last law the Obama administration enacted. During this period, the US Congress renewed the Iran sanctions law for 10 years, and the Obama administration, instead of rejecting this law, let it lie dormant. The Obama-era sanctions were so widespread that the Trump administration, in an attempt to put maximum pressure on Iran, only had to re-impose the Obama-era sanctions or merely increase its instances. For example, under the 13871 executive order, Trump extended the same Obama-era sanctions to include some other metals but did not implement a new method of sanctions.

In other words, it can be said that the infrastructure of the most severe and cruelest sanctions was designed and put into place at a time when the Democrats were ruling over the American political system, and it is noteworthy to mention that among all Democratic administrations, the Obama administration, with Biden as the vice president, imposed the most severe sanctions on Iran, both qualitatively and quantitatively, from 2009 to 2017.

Thus, those who claim that with Joe Biden’s democratic government, the US’ approach toward Iran would change and Iran could reduce the severity of sanctions through “negotiation”, are basing their claims on unrealistic calculations that gives room for concern. The country’s economic experts are worried that the official’s preoccupation with unrealistic prospects such as those envisioned in the JCPOA, would push the efforts to investigate the real roots of economic issues to the sidelines.

               President            Law/executive order  main content of the law/executive order
Jimmy Carter Executive orders 12170, 12205 and 12211 primary sanctions that barred the import of goods and oil from Iran to US, and also banned American investment.
Bill Clinton Executive orders 12957, 12959 and 13905 ban on export (re-export) and import between the two countries, ban on American investment in different parts of Iran
Bill Clinton Iran-Libya Sanctions Act and non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction 2000 Banning countries from investing in Iran's oil industry and prohibition of dual-use materials export to Iran
Barack Obama Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) and executive order 13574 banning foreign banks' transactions with designated Iranian institutions and banks, Prohibition of export of petroleum products to Iran
Barack Obama Law on National Defense Authorities for fiscal year 2012 and executive orders 13590, 13599 and 13622 Sanctioning Central Bank of Iran, ban on oil sales to Iran, extension of banking sanctions to the refinery and petrochemical sector
Barack Obama Executive orders 13553 and 13606 sanctioning various institutions under the pretext of human rights violations
Barack Obama Iran Threat Reduction Law, IFCA Law and Executive Orders 13645, 13628 and 13608 Expansion of oil and banking sanctions, expansion of banking sanctions on the automotive sector and some metals, intensification of penalties for circumvention of sanctions


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