Iran In Brief

Sanctions on Iranian gasoline imports?

Sanctions on Iranian gasoline imports? photo

August 3, 2009

The New York Times is reporting today that sanctions on Iranian imports of gasoline are under consideration by the Obama Administration.  This looks to ISIS more like signaling than a bona fide threat to sanction Iran’s gasoline imports over the near term.  Not that such sanctions aren’t a real option, or potentially effective, but they represent a sharp turn from the current approach emphasizing diplomacy.

It could be that the Obama administration is growing concerned over Iran’s lack of apparent enthusiasm for nuclear talks and wants to make clear that there are options that fall between military force and negotiations that go nowhere.  Orde Kittrie, a former State Department lawyer, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last year that Iran’s dependence on imported gasoline was its “economic Achilles’ heel” that “could be used by the United States to peacefully create decisive leverage” over Iran.  The key lesson from sanctions during the Iraq experience in the 1990s is the importance of finding a balance between sanctions that at minimum sharpen choices without causing widespread pain among civilians.  It’s not clear how enforceable sanctions on gasoline exports would be without the cooperation of Russia and China.  The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009 (HR 2194) would sanction companies doing more than $20 million in annual trade with Iran.  The Senate version of the legislation is here

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