But, the official said, the United States has been challenged to enforce the sanctions without the reliable help of allies and as traders play a “cat-and-mouse game” to avoid being followed on the high seas. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as talks on Iran continued.
U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships conducting security patrols in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf have faced Iranian military ships three times in the past month, exacerbating tensions that could, if they intensified, threatening the delicate nuclear negotiations in Vienna. Twenty percent of the world’s oil supply – about 18 million barrels per day – passes through the Strait.
Other world powers have been reluctant to enforce the sanctions that were imposed, despite their objections, when the United States abandoned the nuclear deal in 2018. The most notable example came last fall, when the The Trump administration said it had reimposed international sanctions against Iran that the United Nations Security Council refused to recognize.
The United States has also warned that it could impose what are known as secondary sanctions on foreign buyers of Iranian oil, which would exclude them from U.S. markets and other transactions processed in U.S. dollars. This has scared international companies who do not want to lose access to US banks and some analysts have said it has hurt relations between the United States and European allies who hoped the nuclear deal would open up new economic markets for them. their industries in Iran.
“If the United States tries to use sanctions for everything, and tries to tell the rest of the world what they can and can’t do, at some point other countries might well push back and say, ‘ We have had enough of this, ”said Corinne A. Goldstein, sanctions expert and senior counsel at the law firm Covington & Burling. “So I think the United States risks losing the power of sanctions by abusing their use.”
Since January, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has fined companies over $ 2.1 million for violating its sanctions against Iran in order to settle or otherwise resolve multi-year cases. , some of which began under President Barack Obama. The Treasury Department has resolved as many sanctions violations against Iran for the whole of 2020, including a $ 4.1 million settlement with Berkshire Hathaway after one of its Turkish affiliates was accused of having sold goods to Iran and then tried to cover up the transaction.
Elliott Abrams, who oversaw the drumbeat of sanctions against Iran towards the end of the Trump administration, said sanctions were blocking tens of billions of dollars in revenue in Tehran, limiting support Iran could devote to its nuclear and military programs, including its proxy. forces across the Middle East.