A nuanced but firm approach to Iran

The reimposition of US sanctions on oil exports has deprived the nation of $10 billion

epa07511023 (FILE) - US President Donald J. Trump listens to South Korean President Moon Jae-in (not pictured) speak in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 11 April 2019 (reissued 17 April 2019). According to media reports on 17 April 2019, US President Donald J. Trump vetoed a 13 March 2019 Senate resolution to end us assistance to Saudi Arabia for their war in Yemen. The US provides billions of dollars in military aid for Saudi Arabia, who has been involved in a war with Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2014.  EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

Five months after US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports, Washington's tough measures are paying off. Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, has announced that the sanctions have already denied the Iranian regime more than $10 billion in oil revenues. And with Mr Trump's decision on Wednesday not to renew waivers for importers of Iranian oil, that figure will continue to grow. From the beginning of May, countries that purchase Iranian oil, such as China, South Korea, Turkey and India, will face punitive action of their own. Before the reimposition of sanctions, Iran was one of the world's leading oil producers, with close to four million barrels per day. However, as one US Senator, Republican Tom Cotton, said this week: "Going forward, the proper amount of oil exports from Iran is zero."

This will further hobble Iran's economy – and with good reason. No country has done more to destabilise the Middle East and meddle in the affairs of its neighbours than Iran. From Lebanon's Hezbollah to the Houthis in Yemen – and a host of militia groups in Iraq and Syria – Tehran has waged a campaign of disruption across the region. The flawed 2015 nuclear deal, brokered by Barack Obama and subsequently ended by Mr Trump, freed up billions of dollars for the regime in Tehran. Far from spending these revenues on services, opportunities and growth for its impoverished people, the Iranian regime funnelled it into its overseas adventures. That is why US sanctions are so important – not to harm the Iranian people but to compel their leaders to change their ways. In the words of Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Assaf: "The US's decision is necessary to ensure that Iran halts its destabilising influence across the Middle East." It is encouraging that sanctions are leaving their mark on the Iranian regime. True to form, rather than reconsidering its approach, the Iranian parliament last week passed a bill branding all US military personnel as terrorists.

Mr Trump is sometimes accused of lacking nuance in his policy positions. Not so on Iran. Having designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – the paramilitary group formed following the 1979 Islamic Revolution to defend hardline Iranian clerics – as a terrorist organisation, complete with a stringent sanctions regime, the Trump administration this week granted exemptions to those who deal with it. The designation represents tough action against Tehran’s primary weapon of destabilisation. However, the exemptions will ensure that US allies in Iraq and Lebanon – where the IRGC is most active – will not face the full weight of American penalties. This is a shrewd move, and part of a holistic strategy by the Trump administration to rein in the worst excesses of the Iranian regime. The hope is that Tehran will see the error of its ways and begin to prioritise its people, rather than expensive foreign adventures.