Neil Bhatiya and Edoardo Saravalle warn that the Trump administration’s overuse of sanctions is eroding whatever effectiveness they might have:
The track record is not encouraging. By constantly expanding its demands, the United States may have given the impression that its negotiations are not in good faith, and that rather than trying to reach a diplomatic resolution, it is simply trying to punish the target. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 points for resetting relations with Tehran tied so many goals to each sanction program so as to render such measures useless as conflict-resolution tools.
The most hawkish sanctions advocates aren’t interested in using sanctions to resolve conflicts. Many Iran hawks advocated piling on additional sanctions against Iran both before and after Trump’s decision to renege on the JCPOA, and they insisted on making demands that Iran couldn’t possibly accept. Their goal was never to “fix” the deal or find a diplomatic solution to other issues, but to create a pretext for punishing Iran for “refusing” the demands that had been designed to be rejected. Pompeo’s list of demands has the same purpose.
Opponents of the nuclear deal hated the JCPOA because it worked and removed the main excuse for punishing and isolating Iran, so as far as they’re concerned punishment is the reason for the sanctions. That is why there is nothing Iran can do short of surrender to get them lifted, and that is why Iran has no incentive to deal with the Trump administration. Iran sees the reimposition of sanctions as entirely incompatible with dialogue, and they are right to do so. Iran hawks have been pushing for more sanctions on Iran for the purpose of sabotaging any further engagement, and Trump has given them exactly what they wanted. Far from trying to reach a diplomatic resolution of any outstanding issues, Iran hawks are determined to make that impossible. They want to maintain the illusion that the U.S. is still open to talking while doing everything possible to make negotiations politically radioactive for the other side. Iranian leaders aren’t falling for it, and neither should we.