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Richard Nephew: UNSC highly unlikely to comply with Trump’s IRGC designation

FNA – Richard Nephew, who served as the lead sanctions expert for the US team negotiating with Iran, says the impacts of the Trump administration’s move to blacklist Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps as a terrorist entity are constrained by the United States’ geographical boundaries as the world community seems to be adamant to the move.

Nephew, who is now a fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, told FNA that the UN Security Council is “highly unlikely” to comply with President Trump’s decision on IRGC.

What follows is the full text of FNA’s interview with the architect of Iran sanctions:

Q: After designating Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, the United States announced that the sanctions will not be imposed on those who cooperate with IRGC automatically. Is the US entitled to the right to impose sanctions on individuals, companies, and governments for cooperating with the IRGC? If yes, is this right legitimate?

A: I think the United States absolutely has the right to determine appropriate terms for those who wish to do business in the United States. Iran has this right as well, of course.

The US decision to deny access to the United States for those who do business with the IRGC comes from this fundamental right.

The reason why this has sometimes upset non-Americans is because of the size and scale of the US economy. It leads to people deciding that they don’t really get to make a choice because they’re choosing between Iran and the United States, and — for many — they would rather do business in the United States. But, this does not mean they don’t get to make a choice or that they do not, in turn, have the right to break US sanctions if they wish. They just merely need to pay the consequences for that decision.

Q: How are the chances for the next US administration to continue labeling the IRGC as a terrorist entity?

A: The US designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization will remain in place until either A) a new Administration decides to remove the designation; or, B) the IRGC no longer qualifies for the designation according to US law.

This means that it is less a matter of the upcoming election for president and more an issue for whether there is a good reason for the next Administration — whenever it takes over — to reconsider the matter.

Q: The US has dropped its waivers on Iran oil sanctions to block the country’s crude supplies from next week. Is this move by Washington not a violation of the nuclear deal?

A: Yes. But, then again, so was the decision to reimpose the sanctions in the first place in November 2018.

Q: How are the chances for increasing sanctions on Iran in President Trump’s line of policy?

A: Almost certainly. What is unclear is how and when.

Q: How could it be justified for the US to unilaterally designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization at international level? Are there any legitimate mechanisms for such a move to drive it on the international scene?

A: Well, the authority is a US domestic one. So, the only mechanism that exists has been utilized.

The larger question is whether there is an international authority that could be used to get other countries to implement the same decision.

Arguably, the UN Security Council could elect to do so. But, it is highly unlikely to do so.

Q: How likely do you believe it would be for the 2020 presidential election hopefuls to get back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with no change, if elected?

A: Really, this is a matter for the next president to decide. A few candidates have suggested as much while others have been more cautious.

The larger question is whether the JCPOA as it stands will still provide value to the United States and Iran or whether there are changes that both would agree need to be made. Changes to the JCPOA should not be considered somehow sacrilegious or wrong on their face. I’m sure Iran would also like to make changes.

Ideally, what will happen after 2020 is a restart in real diplomacy in which substantive issues between the two countries (and with others) can be worked out with talks.