Iranian officials have responded in harsh terms to this move, and that response has not been limited to the usually bellicose hardline politicians and Revolutionary Guard Corps members, but has included the current president and members of his administration who have previously been committed to projecting a more cooperative tone towards the West.
In a Sunday news conference, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif cryptically remarked that the Iranian response to these new sanctions may “be unpleasant for the other side.” President Rouhani declared the sanctions to be “an ugly move” and took on a markedly unfriendly tone by declaring that the US government can never be trusted.
Rouhani also described the restrictions against these 25 entities to be a “crime against humanity,” and asserted that their imposition is illegal. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, supported the same conclusion by describing the sanctions as a “flagrant violation” of the US’s obligations under the Joint Plan of Action signed last November ahead of nuclear negotiation between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations.
These responses carry a note of irony, given outstanding questions about Iran’s own relationship with that agreement. They are also factually incorrect. As the Treasury Department press release announcing these new sanctions explains, they are aimed at enforcing sanctions that remain in place during the negotiating process. The press release also emphasizes that the US remains committed to the targeted sanctions relief that was promised as an accompaniment to the same process.
To date, the US has released more than seven billion dollars in Iranian assets in return for Iran merely coming to the negotiating table and staying there. In the meantime, various reports have indicated that Iran has not fully lived up to its obligations under the agreement that it signed in order to secure that relief.
One provision of the Joint Plan of Action limited Iranian oil exports to one million barrels per day during the negotiating period. If all forms of oil are included in estimates, Iran has violated that provision every month since the agreement went into effect in January. Indeed, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh explicitly rejected the provision in May, declaring that Iran would set its own export levels, and would pursue the largest numbers it could manage.
Moves such as this one demonstrate clear hypocrisy when observed in context with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham’s response to the new round of US sanctions. Afkham described them as “unacceptable and unilateral interpretation” of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Meanwhile, Iran has not only openly violated some provisions of that agreement, it has also made an evident policy of raising its own absolute demands, thus suggesting that fulfillment of the interim agreement requires, for instance, the acceptance of Iran as a nation with full rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty.
In response to these demands and these violations, the executive branch of the United States government has given a response that is distinctly more conciliatory than Iran’s recent commentary. Several months of excessive oil exports have been, at best, ignored, and at worst, covered up by the Obama administration.
The latest sanctions may thus be interpreted as an effort to reclaim some of the leverage that has been forfeited by the US government’s recent soft approach, which has emboldened Iran to make numerous demands and few to no concessions. Even Iran’s separate interactions with the International Atomic Energy Agency have fallen short of their obligations, with it having been announced on Monday that Iran failed to provide all five of the transparency measures that it had promised to deliver by August 25.
Although the IAEA investigation into the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program are not directly connected to the P5+1 negotiations, their outcome is regarded as a factor in the final decisions proffered by the United States and its close allies.
Yet even in spite of this latest missed deadline, Foreign Minister Zarif continues to voice optimism about the prospects for an ultimate deal. Meanwhile, MP Boroujerdi pointedly avoided any acknowledgment of Iranian responsibility for the failure to live up to its obligation. Instead, he and other government officials used Israel as a scapegoat for the obstacle created by the newly imposed sanctions.
“The U.S. and Israel are trying to make up for their failures by imposing new sanctions as they see Iran is responsible for their fiasco in Gaza,” Boroujerdi said, reiterating regime claims that had given Iran credit for the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and that had unilaterally declared victory for Palestine.