The Trump administration is considering  sanctions for the Special Trade and Finance Institute (STFI), the Iranian side of the effort to facilitate humanitarian trade through Europe’s Instrument in Support of Exchange (INSTEX):
If they are looking at sanctioning STFI, you’re essentially trying to kill Instex through the back door,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the Iranian body. “If the U.S. were to take action that kills Instex on arrival, my sense is there will be even more political backing in Europe to oppose the U.S.”
Threatening Europe over INSTEX is insane, as I said  earlier, and trying to kill it by going after its Iranian counterpart is just as wrong and destructive. The fact that the administration is seriously considering doing either of these things shows that they have no problem cutting off Iranians’ access to humanitarian goods. There is no question that the administration wants to inflict as much pain on the Iranian people as possible, and to that end they are threatening to punish anyone involved in every effort to alleviate that pain. The story is very straightforward. Our European allies are trying to preserve legitimate trade with Iran, and our government is insisting on blocking every kind of trade, including humanitarian goods, to make the civilian population suffer as much as they can. Our government’s reason for this excessive, cruel, and vindictive policy is not any Iranian violation of its commitments, but rather because Iran has reliably complied with the JCPOA for more than three years and deprived Iran hawks of their pretext for conflict. The Iranian government made the mistake of trusting ours, and now they are being punished for agreeing to the restrictions on their nuclear program that our government demanded that they accept.
The administration’s high-handed and abusive behavior will have consequences:
The risk of crushing Instex now is that the U.S. could face an even greater backlash if it closes off an avenue for legitimate humanitarian trade, according to Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.
“It does call into question what the long-term strategy here is,” Maloney said. “If there’s no room for humanitarian aid for Iran, literally no viable mechanisms for facilitating those transactions, then clearly this is purely a punitive strategy and one that is intended to wreak maximum havoc on the Iranian population [bold mine-DL].”
The tighter that the administration squeezes, the more governments there will be looking for ways to get around these sanctions. They won’t be doing this primarily because of Iran or the nuclear deal but to secure their own interests against an increasingly abusive and reckless U.S. government.
Wreaking havoc on the population has always seemed to be the point of the policy. That was already pretty clear when the administration started reimposing sanctions last year, but it has become undeniable as they have added more and more. The administration’s relentless hostility towards the Iranian people is as unmistakable as it is irrational. Our government is committing a profound injustice against more than eighty million people who have done nothing to us and with whom we have no real quarrel. This inhumane and bankrupt policy has to be reversed for the sake of these people and for the sake of future U.S.-Iranian relations.