The short-lived thaw of 1997, when Mohammed Khatami was elected president, failed to lastingly melt the ice. While Khatami was busy advocating for a "dialogue among civilisations" on the world political stage, something extremely dangerous was going on in secret that would trigger the global sanctions that are still in effect against Iran today. In 2002, it became known that Tehran's rulers were operating two nuclear facilities, a uranium enrichment plant in Natanz and a heavy water reactor in Arak. Iran was apparently on its way to producing nuclear weapons.
The situation became critical when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found traces of enriched uranium in Natanz in late summer 2003. The agency later reported that Iran had kept its nuclear programme a secret for 18 years. Since then, uranium enrichment in Iran's nuclear facilities and international sanctions have both continued apace, through at different speeds.
Numerous sanctions from numerous sources
There are numerous different sets of sanctions: UN sanctions that are binding on all nations of the world, sanctions imposed by national governments that have their own special problems with Tehran, and finally the U.S. sanctions, which are comprehensive, universal and particularly painful for Tehran's rulers. The story behind these sanctions often reads like a thriller.
Since its inception the Islamic Republic has seen seven U.S. presidents come and go, from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump. These have been men of widely varying characters and political leanings in domestic and foreign policy.
"Biden should take a clear stand — with Germany, France and Britain — that there will be no new negotiations until nationals of these countries held hostage in #Iran are set free and the Islamic Republic quits this savage practice," writes @jrezaian. https://t.co/WWEwx1QaPC
— Hadi Ghaemi (@hadighaemi) January 26, 2021
Trump plugged the last holes – and what will Biden do?
After Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in May 2018, he set about plugging the last remaining holes through which the Islamic Republic could evade sanctions. In late April 2019, he suspended the waivers that allowed some countries to make oil deals with Iran for six months. The aim was to cut Iran off from the five main purchasers of its oil – China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey. And that goal was achieved.
Iran is currently no longer exporting oil in an amount worthy of mention. At six to seven million barrels per day, the country was once the world's second largest oil exporter. Today, the country sells about 750,000 barrels a day indirectly or through the black market, but even those sales have to take place without normal banking transactions, which means the deals often involve bartering oil in exchange for goods.
When and under what conditions U.S. President Joe Biden will return to the nuclear agreement is uncertain. What we do know for sure is that even under Biden almost all sanctions will remain in place for the time being. This is because Biden would need the approval of the U.S. Congress for their repeal. And there are plenty of members of Congress who oppose loosening Iran's shackles – including many Democrats.
© Iran Journal / Qantara.de 2021
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor
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