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Failed policy?
A book chronciles U.S. sancxtions against Iran

By Bruce Zagaris
January22, 2001
The Iranian

Hossein Alikhani's Sanctioning Iran: Anatomy of a Failed Policy (2000, I.B. Tauris Publishers) masterfully weaves a colorful discussion of the start and evolution of U.S. sanctions against Iran. The success of the book is the way it blends the various components of U.S. sanctions policy towards Iran: history, diplomacy, economic policy, military policy, the technical evolution of the laws and administrative sanctions and the way in which U.S. agencies have enforced their unique sanctions against Iran. The book depicts the unfolding of each new wrinkle of the sanctions, including the response by U.S. allies, various legal challenges to the sanctions, both within and outside the U.S.

The in-depth coverage the book provides is indispensable to an evaluation not only of how the U.S. arrived at its current Iran sanctions, but also the likely future of such policies. Starting in 1979, the book paints a fascinating and detailed story of the sanctions. The discussion portrays the complex interplay between the U.S. executive, legislative, and judicial branches at various stages of the process. The book's collection of key documents, which includes laws, regulations and other documents, and its annotations and bibliography enable the reader to have a comprehensive view of the U.S. Iran sanctions.

The book contains ten chapters. The author traces the increasing use of sanctions as an integral part of U.S. foreign policy and the interaction between the executive and legislative branches in the U.S. in formulating and implementing the policies. In this regard, the imposition of anti-terrorism controls on Iran in 1984 is discussed and the evolution to the "dual containment" strategy in 1993 is outlined, whereby the U.S. resolved to strictly contain both Iran and Iraq, whom the U.S. regarded as twin evils.

The effectiveness of the role of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the leadership role of then Rep. Sen. Alphonse D'Amato are depicted. President Clinton issued executive orders in 1995 to tighten the Iran sanctions. The issuance on August 19, 1997 of an executive order during a lawsuit involving the supply by a General Motors Canadian subsidiary of locomotives to Iranian Railways further tightened the sanctions. The author's relation of the behind-the-scenes issuance of a customized executive order so that the U.S. could win a court challenge illustrates the in-depth value of the book's research. The easing of the U.S. sanctions against Iran during 1998 and 1999 are highlighted.

The suspenseful political machinations leading to the enactment by the U.S. Congress of the Iran and Libyan Sanctions Act of 1996 are captured as well as the European Union's blockage of their implementation through its legislative and legal action (e.g., the EU filed a petition before the WTO), resulting eventually in a negotiated settlement between the U.S. and the EU.

After discussing the various legal justifications for the U.S. extraterritorial jurisdiction, especially under the International Economic Emergency Preparedness Act, the author highlights the U.N. resolution of October 2, 1999, whereby the General Assembly called for the immediate repeal of unilateral extraterritorial laws that imposed sanctions. The diplomatic aspects of extraterritorial applications of sanctions are generally adverse to the U.S.

The book does an excellent job of tracing the scope and extent of the Iran sanctions (e.g., by tracing the scope and extent of the sanctions) policy explanations behind the U.S. Iran sanctions ­ Iran's support for international terrorism; Iran's opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process; and the development of weapons of mass destruction (and the missiles to deliver them).


Bruce Zagaris is a lawyer based in Washington DC.

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