Iran Sanctions


The current situation in Iran is complex and challenging.

Economic situation

Iran’s economy continues to face significant challenges in 2024, largely due to ongoing U.S. sanctions and internal mismanagement. The International Monetary Fund projects that Iran’s GDP growth will slow to 3.3% in 2024 and 3.1% in 2025, down from 4.7% in 2023. Inflation remains a major issue, with rates estimated around 40-50%. The Iranian currency, the rial, has been volatile and lost significant value against foreign currencies.

Oil exports, a crucial source of revenue for Iran, have rebounded somewhat since 2020 but remain well below pre-sanction levels. The government faces persistent budget deficits and mounting debt. According to the IMF, Iran needs an oil price of $121 per barrel to avoid a budget deficit, while current prices are significantly lower.

Political Situation

Iran is currently in a state of political and social tension as it prepares for a presidential election on June 28, 2024, following the unexpected death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month.

The election features six candidates, predominantly hardliners, who are actively courting the youth vote in a country where 60% of the population is under 30. However, there is widespread voter apathy, with recent surveys showing that over 30 million — around half of the electorate — do not want to cast their ballots.

This election comes against a backdrop of ongoing human rights concerns and social unrest.

The country has seen a surge in executions, with 175 people executed in 2024 so far, and continued protests stemming from the 2022 “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini. The government has also renewed its crackdown on women not adhering to strict hijab rules, leading to further tensions. Internationally, Iran remains under scrutiny for its nuclear program and regional activities, with recent attacks on Israel heightening concerns about potential escalation in the Middle East. As the election approaches, the outcome could significantly impact Iran’s domestic policies and its relationships with the international community.

The government continues to face domestic challenges, including ongoing protests against strict Islamic laws and economic hardships. Internationally, tensions with the West, particularly the United States and Israel, remain high, especially following Iran’s recent attack on Israel in April 2024.

Social Situation

Iran’s social landscape is marked by ongoing tensions between the conservative government and a largely young, educated population seeking greater freedoms. The government has intensified its crackdown on women’s rights, particularly enforcing strict dress codes, which has sparked public outrage and protests.

Internet censorship and restrictions on social media platforms remain significant issues, with many Iranians using VPNs to access blocked content. The country also faces challenges related to brain drain, as many educated young Iranians seek opportunities abroad.

US Relations with Iran

U.S.-Iran relations remain highly strained in 2024. The two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980, and tensions have escalated in recent years due to several factors.

Nuclear Program. The U.S. continues to express concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. After the U.S. withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018, Iran has gradually reduced its compliance with the agreement. Efforts to revive the deal have stalled.

Sanctions. The U.S. maintains extensive economic sanctions on Iran, targeting its oil exports, financial sector, and key individuals and entities. These sanctions have significantly impacted Iran’s economy.

Regional Conflicts. The U.S. and Iran support opposing sides in various regional conflicts, particularly in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The U.S. has accused Iran of destabilizing the region through its support of proxy groups.

Military Tensions. There have been several incidents of military confrontation, including the U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in 2020 and Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq.

Israel The U.S. strongly supports Israel, while Iran views Israel as a major adversary. This has led to increased tensions, especially following Iran’s recent attack on Israel in April 2024.

Human Rights.  The U.S. frequently criticizes Iran’s human rights record, particularly its treatment of protesters and restrictions on civil liberties.

Despite these tensions, there have been some limited diplomatic engagements, often through intermediaries or in multilateral settings. However, a significant improvement in relations appears unlikely in the near term without major policy shifts from both sides.

The Biden administration has expressed willingness to re-engage with Iran on the nuclear issue but insists that Iran must first return to full compliance with the JCPOA. Iran, on the other hand, demands the lifting of sanctions before it will consider any new negotiations.

As of 2024, the relationship remains characterized by mutual distrust, conflicting regional interests, and fundamental disagreements on key issues such as nuclear proliferation and human rights.

US Sanctions on Iran

Executive Order 12170 (1979): Froze about $12 billion in Iranian assets, including bank deposits, gold and other properties. Purpose was to pressure Iran to release US embassy hostages.

Effectiveness: Contributed to eventual hostage release in 1981, but took over a year.

Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (1996): Imposed sanctions on companies investing in Iran’s energy sector. Purpose was to limit Iran’s oil revenues and nuclear program development.

Effectiveness: Limited some investment, but Iran found ways around sanctions through Asian partners.

Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (2010): Expanded sanctions to target Iran’s energy sector, including refined petroleum imports. Purpose was to pressure Iran on its nuclear program.

Effectiveness: Contributed to bringing Iran to nuclear negotiations, but did not stop nuclear development.

Executive Order 13599 (2012): Froze all Iranian government and central bank assets in the US. Purpose was to cut Iran off from the global financial system.

Effectiveness: Severely impacted Iran’s economy, but did not change nuclear policy.

Executive Order 13846 (2018): Reimposed sanctions lifted under the JCPOA nuclear deal. Purpose was to force Iran back to negotiations for a “better deal”.
Effectiveness: Caused significant economic damage, but Iran accelerated nuclear activities in response.

Executive Order 13902 (2020): Imposed sanctions on Iran’s construction, mining, manufacturing, and textile sectors. Purpose was to cut off revenue sources for the Iranian government.
Effectiveness: Further damaged Iran’s economy, but has not changed Iran’s regional policies or nuclear program.

While sanctions have succeeded in inflicting economic pain on Iran, they have largely failed to achieve their primary goal of changing Iran’s behavior regarding its nuclear program and regional activities. Iran has found ways to evade sanctions and has often responded to increased pressure by escalating its objectionable activities. The humanitarian impact on Iranian civilians has also been significant.

Sanctions Threat to Iran’s Economy

Based on the search results, US sanctions are having significant impacts on Iran’s economy in several key ways.

Oil exports and revenue. Sanctions have restricted Iran’s oil exports, its main source of revenue. Exports fell from a peak of 2.7 million barrels per day to around 1.5 million barrels per day in early 2024, though they have rebounded somewhat recently. The IMF projects Iran’s oil production growth will slow to just 0.1 million barrels per day in 2024 and 2025.

GDP contraction. The IMF forecasts Iran’s GDP growth will slow to 3.3% in 2024 and 3.1% in 2025, down from 4.7% in 2023. Overall, Iran’s economy is estimated to be significantly smaller than it would have been without sanctions.

Currency devaluation. The Iranian rial has lost substantial value against foreign currencies. This has contributed to high inflation.

Inflation. Inflation reached around 40-50% in 2023 according to various estimates. The IMF estimated Iran’s inflation for 2023 at 41.5%.

Financial isolation. Iran has limited access to the global financial system. The US has imposed sanctions on Iranian banks and threatened secondary sanctions on foreign banks that do business with Iran.

Trade restrictions. Broad sanctions limit Iran’s ability to engage in international trade across many sectors.

Foreign investment. Many foreign companies have exited the Iranian market or foregone new investments to avoid US penalties.

Budget pressures. Lower oil prices combined with sanctions have strained Iran’s government budget. The IMF says Iran needs an oil price of $121 per barrel to avoid a budget deficit.

Industrial impacts. Sectors like automobile manufacturing have been hit by restrictions on components and technologies.
While sanctions have taken a toll, Iran has attempted to work around them through methods like selling oil via middlemen. However, these efforts have been insufficient to fully offset the broader economic impact of sanctions on Iran’s economy and government finances.

Based on the available information, Iran’s nuclear program has advanced significantly in recent years despite international sanctions, though sanctions have played a role in slowing its progress.

Current State of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Uranium Enrichment. Iran has dramatically increased its uranium enrichment activities. As of May 2024, Iran had accelerated production of uranium enriched to 60% U-235, which is close to weapons-grade levels. Its stockpile of enriched uranium has grown to over 27 times the limit permitted under the 2015 nuclear deal.

Technical Capabilities. Iran has expanded its enrichment capabilities by installing more advanced centrifuges. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in June 2024 that Iran was installing new centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow facilities, further increasing its capacity to enrich uranium.

Breakout Time. Experts estimate that Iran’s “breakout time” – the time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon – has been reduced to potentially zero. However, additional time would likely be needed to build a deliverable warhead.

Monitoring Limitations. Since February 2021, Iran has restricted IAEA inspectors’ access to its nuclear facilities, reducing international oversight of its program.

Impact of Sanctions

Economic Pressure.  Sanctions have significantly impacted Iran’s economy. The U.S. Treasury estimated in 2015 that sanctions had made Iran’s economy 15-20% smaller than it would have been otherwise and cost Iran $160 billion in lost oil revenue.

Slowing Progress. While sanctions have not stopped Iran’s nuclear advancements, they have likely slowed its progress. The economic constraints imposed by sanctions have limited Iran’s ability to invest in its nuclear infrastructure.

Bringing Iran to Negotiations. Sanctions played a crucial role in bringing Iran to the negotiating table for the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The relief from sanctions offered under the JCPOA was a key incentive for Iran to agree to restrictions on its nuclear program.

Unintended Consequences. Some argue that sanctions have pushed Iran to develop a “resistance economy,” potentially making it more resilient to external pressure.

There are concerns that sanctions may have incentivized Iran to expand economic and military ties with countries like China and Russia.

Humanitarian Impact. While sanctions include exemptions for humanitarian goods, their broad nature has reportedly restricted Iranians’ access to healthcare and other essential services, which could impact public support for nuclear negotiations.

Benefits of lifting sanctions

Economic growth. Iran’s economy could see significant growth, with some estimates suggesting GDP growth could increase by over 4% in the short term after sanctions relief.

Increased oil exports. Iran could boost its oil exports, potentially adding up to 1.5 million barrels per day to the global market by 2020.

Access to frozen assets. Iran could regain access to some of its frozen foreign assets, estimated at $29 billion in immediately accessible funds.

Improved trade. Sanctions relief would allow Iran to re-engage in international trade, particularly with European countries, boosting non-oil exports and imports.

Financial system access. Iran would regain access to the global financial system, including SWIFT, facilitating international transactions.

Foreign investment. Lifting sanctions could attract foreign investment to Iran, particularly in its energy sector and other industries.

Reduced inflation. Economic normalization could help stabilize Iran’s currency and reduce inflation, which has been exacerbated by sanctions.

Humanitarian benefits. Easing sanctions could improve access to healthcare and other essential services for Iranian civilians.

Regional trade boost. Improved economic conditions in Iran could benefit regional trade partners, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Diplomatic relations. Sanctions relief could potentially lead to improved diplomatic relations between Iran and Western countries, particularly the United States.

It’s important to note that the extent of these benefits would depend on the specific terms of any agreement and Iran’s compliance with its obligations. Additionally, some effects may take time to materialize fully.

Disadvantage to Lifting Sanctions

Empowering Iran’s regime. Lifting sanctions would provide a significant economic boost to Iran’s government, potentially strengthening the current regime and enabling it to further its regional ambitions and support for militant groups.

Reduced leverage. Removing sanctions would eliminate a major source of pressure on Iran, potentially reducing Western leverage in future negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program or other issues.

Regional destabilization. With increased resources, Iran could expand its support for proxies and allies in places like Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon, potentially destabilizing the region further.

Nuclear proliferation risks. Critics argue that lifting sanctions without sufficient safeguards could allow Iran to continue covert nuclear activities, potentially leading to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Economic competition. The reentry of Iranian oil into global markets could lower oil prices, negatively impacting other oil-exporting nations, particularly in the Gulf.

Ballistic missile development. Increased economic resources could allow Iran to accelerate its ballistic missile program, which is a concern for regional stability.

Human rights concerns. Critics argue that lifting sanctions could reduce pressure on Iran to improve its human rights record.

Terrorism financing. There are concerns that a sanctions-free Iran might increase its financial support for designated terrorist organizations.

Domestic political backlash. In countries like the United States, lifting sanctions on Iran could face significant political opposition, potentially complicating foreign policy. Think political capital and elections disadvantages.

Verification challenges. Ensuring Iran’s compliance with any agreement after sanctions are lifted could prove difficult and contentious.

Regional arms race. A economically stronger Iran might prompt its regional rivals, particularly Saudi Arabia, to increase their own military spending, potentially leading to a regional arms race.

Cyber warfare capabilities. With improved finances, Iran could potentially enhance its cyber warfare capabilities, posing new security threats.