There are a number of differences between the past sanctions imposed on Iran and the current US sanctions that need to be elaborated as the Iranian public faces an outright psychological war.
Firstly, the previous sanctions were multilateral ones, supported by “states” based on binding international resolutions (approved by the United Nations Security Council and the European Union).
The current sanctions, however, are unilateral and illegal ones that the US Treasury Department has “forced” upon private companies by employing the politics of fear and threats. This is while the companies’ respective governments and current laws oppose such measures.
This atmosphere of fear and threats and the forceful nature of the sanctions, that even overshadow the economic benefits of the other countries, can be neutralized by effective measures of European governments and Iran.
Secondly, the previous sanctions had the support of the public in Western countries as well as many other nations. In fact, Iranophobia and enmity towards the Iranian government had reached such a level that some influential countries even misused the mechanisms of international organizations (like the International Atomic Energy Agency and UN-affiliated bodies) against Iran in an unorthodox and illegal manner. The media, civil organizations, and experts did not even raise the slightest objections against such acts at the time.
Today, however, relations between Iran and the West have become so regulated and systematic – because of key legal frameworks like the JCPOA, UN Resolution 2231, and the International Court of Justice orders – that hereafter the imposition of irrational pressures on Iran, by any private or state actor, would not be without any cost.
The abrupt U-turn of public opinion against Saudi Arabia and its fall from grace in the case of Jamal Khashoggi shows the world’s public opinion has the capacity to gradually lean towards Iran and doing business with its government if it is enlightened about its activities.
Let’s not forget that in recent years, issues like corporate moral responsibility and corporate human rights accountability are established rules in business and cannot be renounced by large corporations.
In fact, if these corporations decide to leave the Iranian market because of pressures imposed by the Trump administration, it is very likely that they would revise their decisions later when faced with an international backlash.
Thirdly, the previous sanctions were imposed while there was a complete consensus within the US in favor of them. The current sanctions, however, are opposed by a considerable part of US political movements, media, and experts.
Some reports indicate that technocrats and experts in departments like the Treasury and State are even against the Trump administration’s unilateral moves as they could lead to the collapse of the US dollar monopoly and hegemony on the world’s financial mechanisms.
As a result, any development inside the US, like the mid-term congressional elections, or the replacement of Trump’s key cabinet figures could redress the balance of power, leading to the abrupt collapse of Trump’s unilateral sanctions.
The situation of the current US sanctions imposed on Iran is a far cry from the previous sanctions where all the actors inside the US were competing to harm Iran, something that makes the current sanctions very fragile.
*Reza Nasri is an international law expert from Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.