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Sanctions Expert On Iran Deal Withdrawal


OK. So President Trump announced yesterday that he is pulling the United States out of a nuclear deal with Iran. In practical terms, that means the U.S. will reimpose sanctions that were eased under the agreement. Richard Nephew knows about sanctions on Iran. He helped design them while working in the State Department under President Obama. He's with us this morning.

Welcome to the program.

RICHARD NEPHEW: Thank you. Good morning.

GREENE: So what sanctions do you expect to come back into force with this decision from President Trump?

NEPHEW: Well, what the Treasury Department announced yesterday afternoon is effectively that all of them from the 2013, you know, sanctions era are coming back. They're just coming back in two ways, with some being restarted in 90 days, so in early August, and the rest coming back at the beginning of November, 180 days from now.

GREENE: Could President Trump be right here, I mean, that Iran will feel pain again from these sanctions and do more to roll back its nuclear program than they had agreed to under this deal?

NEPHEW: Well, I think he's right that Iran will feel additional pain. There's little question about that. The sanctions regime that we built relies on leveraging access to the U.S. economy, and that pressure ability still exists. But I do think that he is dramatically overestimating Iran's own ability politically to make concessions of the type that are being discussed - you know, for instance, foregoing any ability to have an independent nuclear program, something Iran's been refusing for 15 years. And I think he's also mistaking the fact that it's not as if we didn't try this during the negotiations. We did make a good attempt to try and get the Iranians to accept deeper restrictions in the program. They just were refusing to do so.

GREENE: And so you don't see a possibility, though, that if you would agree with President Trump that they need to make more concessions, that may be tightening the squeeze could be one way to try that.

NEPHEW: It's certainly one way to try that. But here's the rub. You don't have the rest of the international community behind you in doing this. And I think the fact that Iran is complying with the current agreement makes it even more difficult. To my mind, if you want to get deeper restrictions on Iran, the right way to play this was to build up international consensus in the next few years as the restrictions start to ease - that's a mistake - and to try and get agreement on an additional supplemental agreement with the Iranians or to get unified multilateral response in imposing sanctions.

GREENE: OK. Well, let's talk about that because the administration seems to be suggesting that their goal is to try and cajole European allies to disinvest in Iran and to get more on board with some sort of new, broader framework. Do you see that as a possibility? Do you see European allies moving forward from this decision - I mean, they've been very critical of President Trump - but at least being open to joining the United States and reimposing some sanctions and coming up with a new multilateral plan for Iran?

NEPHEW: No, I don't. And I just was in Europe last week. And I'll tell you that the government officials that I met with were pretty clear that even if they as individual governments would support such an effort, the entirety of the EU - which, of course, has to come together as 28, soon to be 27 members to vote in favor of such sanctions - is opposed and that they will have a considerable difficulty in convincing all those countries to come together. So I think that - yeah, that doesn't mean that companies in Europe aren't going to potentially defy their governments and still walk away from Iran in respect to U.S. sanctions. But it's going to be far from the kind of integrated, comprehensive and cooperative attitude we had during the heart of the sanctions campaign before.

GREENE: What is your biggest concern about this decision, in terms of U.S.-Iranian in relations, in terms of the region, in terms of what we might see in terms of reaction from Iran?

NEPHEW: Well, I've got two. I mean, one - that there is no plan B. There is no recognition that if this doesn't go well, we don't have the diplomatic option anymore because we'll have damaged that so badly with the Iranians - and second, that in the context of escalating tensions in Syria, particularly with Israel, we've got a very real risk of the situation going out of control as the nuclear program expands.

GREENE: All right. Richard Nephew developed sanctions strategy at the State Department during the Obama administration. He's now with the Brookings Institution. He joined us on Skype. We really appreciate it. Thanks.

NEPHEW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.