Today a UN arms embargo imposed on Iran since 2007 is set to expire. The deadline was agreed upon in 2015 by Iran, the permanent members of the UN security council and Germany, as part of a deal meant to halt Iran's nuclear programme. And yet that deal failed to address a number of problems with Iran’s nefarious activities, including violations regarding its missile programme.
Despite attempts by the US to reimpose the embargo through a complex snapback mechanism, sanctions have been lifted and Iran can theoretically import weapons. Yet most countries are unlikely to do business with the regime, as heavy US sanctions will be levied on those that do.
American President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2018. Iran has also breached the uranium enrichment limit set by the now defunct agreement, escalating tensions between the two countries.
The flawed nuclear deal was rejected by Mr Trump and Iran's Arab neighbours as it stopped short of providing a long-lasting solution to security threats posed by the regime. The agreement does not prevent Tehran from developing its ballistic missile programme, nor does it address its funding of armed militias that have destabilised the region for decades.
From Lebanon’s Hezbollah, to the Houthis of Yemen and many of Iraq’s most potent armed factions, Iran has funded and sometimes created groups that terrorise civilians and undermine the sovereignty of Arab states.
Since pulling out of the JCPOA, the US has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, taking a toll on its economy and its ability to support armed proxies. The sanctions include the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is part of the country’s armed forces, as a foreign terrorist organisation. Stringent measures have also been taken against Iranian banks, with 18 of them blacklisted earlier this month.
Prominent political figures allied with Tehran have also been sanctioned in Lebanon and Iraq. Iran has undermined the two diverse yet fragile nations and used them to further its sectarian agenda and gain access to the global economy, to the detriment of ordinary Iraqis and Lebanese. One year ago, almost to the day, mass protests swept through Lebanon and Iraq. The protesters demanded an end to sectarian politics, corruption and Iran meddling in their affairs.
While sanctions are a deterrent for Tehran, they do not offer a long-term solution. Iran must return to the negotiating table, with an acknowledgment of regional rights and concerns. It must agree on a new deal that takes into consideration the concerns of the countries most affected by its activities.
The leadership in Tehran has refused to renegotiate a better deal. Despite Mr Trump’s repeated calls to do so, the regime maintains that the lifting of US sanctions is a prerequisite to any talks. Since 2018 Iran has stalled negotiations in the hopes that Mr Trump, who has driven the maximum pressure campaign against the regime, might be voted out of office in November. For two years, the people of Iran have suffered from economic sanctions while their leaders refused to resolve the issue diplomatically.
This strategy has bought the regime time, at the expense of its people. Whether Mr Trump remains in power or not, the truth is that Iran has no choice but to negotiate a new deal sooner or later. Avoiding to have to face this reality has only prolonged the suffering of Iranians and added to the instability of the region.