Talk Is Cheap

Sanctions Might Have Brought Rouhani to The Table, But They Won't Keep Him There

An Iranian Zelzal missile is launched during a test at an unknown location in central Iran, September 27, 2009. Ali Shayegan / Courtesy Reuters

In 2012, I argued that sanctions against Iran could succeed at bringing Tehran back to the negotiating table but that they were not a strategy in and of themselves. Occasional (and usually fruitless) talks, after all, would be no substitute for overall stability and political normalization. A more successful long-term U.S. policy, I wrote, should be geared toward building a more democratic Iran. That remains true today. As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani mounts his charm offensive at the UN General Assembly, it is worth remembering that sanctions alone did not bring about the new Iranian attitude. Nor will they be enough to guarantee Iran’s cooperation in the future.

Over the last two years, the U.S. and EU sanctions regimes have scored impressive results, mostly thanks to broad international support for, and compliance with, them. Some countries, such as Canada, signed on to tight trade restrictions. Others, such as

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