The Trump administration wants to ratchet up economic pressure on Iran, but unless it can persuade skeptical governments in Europe and Asia to join the effort, it will be forced to use unilateral measures that would probably prove ineffective at choking Tehran’s economy, former officials, diplomats, and experts say.
With U.S. President Donald Trump facing a deadline next month to declare to Congress whether Iran is abiding by a nuclear deal, the administration has signaled plans for a tougher approach to the accord that could include fresh sanctions against Tehran or even triggering the reimposition of punishing sanctions that were lifted as part of the accord.
The other signatories to the accord — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia — strongly support keeping the nuclear deal in place and have made clear they oppose snapping back the sanctions that preceded the agreement.
In his combative speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week, Trump himself called the deal “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” And administration officials, including U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, say Tehran is violating the spirit of the deal. They have argued for Trump to declare that Iran is not in compliance with the agreement, suggesting such a move could give Washington more leverage over Tehran.
If Trump decertifies Iran under U.S. law, Congress would have to decide within 60 days whether to reimpose an array of sanctions that were eased as part of the 2015 deal, which introduced limits on Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions and freeing up frozen assets.
Some hawkish opponents of the nuclear agreement in Congress want to reimpose the old sanctions in hopes of recreating the economic pressure that squeezed Iran’s economy five years ago and brought Tehran to the negotiating table. One of the hardest-hitting measures required other countries to significantly reduce their purchases of Iranian oil or else face U.S. sanctions. That provision alone cost Iran tens of billions of dollars in annual oil revenues.
But the Trump administration almost certainly won’t be able to replicate the chokehold Obama placed on the Iranian economy in 2012 by limiting its crude oil exports.
Those sanctions, which reduced Iran’s exports from about 2.5 million barrels a day down to less than 1.5 million barrels a day, were ultimately successful for several different reasons. European and…