The US issued dozens of sanctions on Iran as Washington and Tehran negotiate a deal that could see several prisoners released. Additionally, France, Germany, and the UK extended sanctions on Iran that were set to expire.
On Friday, the State Department announced dozens of sanctions targeting Tehran. Twenty-five Iranian individuals, three media outlets, and one internet research firm were added to Washington’s blacklist.
The US says the sanctions are a response to the suppression of protesters after the death of Mahsa Amini. She was detained for not following Iranian dress codes for women. Amini died from abuse while in police custody one year ago. After her death, widespread protests against Tehran’s strict laws broke out.
The new round of sanctions comes in anticipation of protests marking a year since her death. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “The United States will continue to support Iranians – and all people – who are defending their human rights and fundamental freedoms.” He continued, “And today, we join people from across the globe in honoring the memory of Mahsa Amini and those killed.”
Muhammad Sahimi, NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at USC and commentator on Iranian issues, explained in Responsible Statecraft that sanctions will hinder more liberal policies taking hold in Tehran. “Iranian people living in Iran are fully capable of resisting the brutal and reactionary policies of the clerics; pushing them back for meaningful irreversible reforms, and putting their country on a path toward a democratic state,” he wrote. “They do not need the exiled fake opposition and their American and Israeli patrons who from the comfort of their homes in the West call for street demonstrations, economic sanctions, and war.”
The sanctions could interfere with ongoing talks between Washington and Tehran aimed at releasing prisoners. The prisoner swap could occur as early as this week and would see ten people freed. The deal would also be a rare diplomatic success for the Joe Biden administration, which has taken an adversarial approach to nearly all states deemed a potential rival by Washington.
There are other potential issues that could scuttle the agreement between the US and Iran. The International Atomic Inspection Agency (IAEA), UK, France, and Germany have all attacked Iran for not following the 2015 Nuclear Agreement or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The deal, inked during the Obama presidency, gave Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for Iran limiting its civilian nuclear capabilities. In 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement, even as the IAEA – the UN’s atomic watchdog – certified Iran was in full compliance with the JCPOA.
Trump went on to reimpose sanctions on Iran that were lifted per the 2015 deal and applied new restrictions on trading with Tehran aimed at crippling the Islamic Republic’s economy. In response, Tehran began enriching uranium to higher levels and ended some additional inspections of its nuclear program that were required under the broken agreement.
The JCPOA explicitly allows Iran to walk back the limitations and inspections of its nuclear program if the other parties to the agreement break its commitments to lift sanctions.
On Saturday, IAEA head Rafael Grossi slammed Tehran for restricting inspections. “I strongly condemn this disproportionate and unprecedented unilateral measure which affects the normal planning and conduct of agency verification activities in Iran and openly contradicts the cooperation that should exist between the agency and Iran,” he said.
Additionally, London, Paris, and Berlin announced an extension of sanctions on Tehran that were set to be lifted under the nuclear agreement. “In direct response to Iran’s consistent and severe non-compliance with its JCPOA commitments since 2019, the governments of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom intend to maintain nuclear proliferation-related measures on Iran, as well as arms and missile embargoes, after JCPOA Transition Day on 18 October 2023,” a joint statement from the three countries said.