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How Likely Is It That The Latest Sanctions Will Bring Iran To The Negotiating Table?


So is this new policy on Iran loud huffing and puffing or a strong and proportionate response? Well, for one view on it, we are joined by Suzanne Maloney. She was an adviser to the State Department on Iran issues during the George W. Bush administration, and she is now with the Brookings Institution. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: So we heard the president say that these sanctions are going to deny access to key financial resources from the senior leaders of Iran. Do you have a sense of what exactly the sanctions are going to do?

MALONEY: I think that may be a bit of an overstatement about denying key economic resources to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is already heavily sanctioned. In fact, many of the organizations and institutions that are associated with the Office of the Supreme Leader that were highlighted in today's announcement have already been subject to American sanctions.

I think the purpose of the announcement today was, at least to some extent, about the huffing and puffing that Ilan Goldenberg mentioned in the prior commentary. But it's also, I think, a reaction to some sense that there was an appearance that the policy had begun to soften a bit because of the president's decision not to retaliate and some of his seemingly conciliatory rhetoric over the weekend.

SHAPIRO: Right. So after a year or so of what the Trump administration describes as a maximum pressure campaign on Iran, how do you increase the pressure from maximum, I guess, is the question.

MALONEY: Well, and that's the dilemma that the administration is beginning to face - that once you've sanctioned all of the major industries and sectors of the Iranian economy, there's very little that you can do that's not already redundant or just largely incremental. It also, I think, highlights the fact that the Iranian economy - what's left of it - has become more insular and less interconnected, which means whatever economic activity continues in Iran today is going to be more resilient to U.S. penalties.

SHAPIRO: Now, the White House says this is all a means of getting Iran to the negotiating table. Do you think these steps are likely to do that, likely to have that effect?

MALONEY: I think it's very much unclear that new economic measures are going to really create an incentive for the Iranians to come to the negotiating table. In particular, the threat, as we've heard today, to sanction the Iranian foreign minister would seem to fly in the face of any real effort to negotiate.

That said, I think there is some constituency on the part of the Iranian system to try to see what might be possible, to explore what might be viable in terms of some kind of a quid pro quo with the Trump administration simply because they're so aware that the president himself appears to be fixated on the possibility of some kind of summitry with Iran.

SHAPIRO: Do you think there's a risk that increasing the pressure will lead Iran to be more aggressive and take more steps, like shooting down the U.S. drone as it did last week?

MALONEY: Well, I think we were likely to see that in the aftermath of the events of last week. President Trump's decision to reverse his initial support for a military strike on Iran and then tweet about it publicly, I think, was likely read as weakness from the Iranian leadership. And fundamentally, they haven't gotten what they need out of this escalatory strategy. They're looking to see a mitigation of economic pressure, and they haven't seen that yet.

SHAPIRO: That's Suzanne Maloney. She served as an adviser to the State Department on Iran issues during the George W. Bush administration. She is now with the Brookings Institution. Thanks for joining us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.