Change in Iran will come probably more from the exasperation of the Iranian people themselves - Bruno Tertrais

June 29, 2018

Thank you, Lincoln. You asked provocative questions, so I will try to give you provocative replies about the politics of sanctions. Let me make three or four points about this. First of all, it's undeniable that sanctions matter and they've been particularly important to force the regime to accept a negotiation which led to what some call a bad deal, what I would call an imperfect deal, but that's the deal we have. Some would say we had but it still exists, at least on paper. When you look at how much the regime lost in oil revenue during the high period of sanctions, maybe $150 billion more dollars. When you look at the contraction of the economy, maybe 15%, 20%, it's undeniable that sanctions did play an important role in forcing this regime to the negotiating table.

You talk about sanctions against Tehran, obviously targeting the IRGC matters a lot because it's ultimately today the core of the regime. However, I would say that in any policy regarding Islamic Republic sanctions are a necessary but in sufficient component. Sanctions are not a magic bullet. You know that this regime has been rather resilient, that many Iranian entities have found ways to live with them, the sanctions that the IRGC has adapted, unfortunately, to sanctions. Sanctions are not the only tool that exists to influence the Iranian economy.

The problem is that sometimes sanctions backtrack, we all know that. Those who have been in government know that the finetuning of sanctions is an art, not a science. Maybe sanctions have unfortunately reinforced the role of the IRGC in some segments of the economy. You all know the importance of the IRGC in the Iranian economy, which is as I said the core, the backbone. They control maybe 20%, maybe 30% of the Islamic republic's economy. They are present in each and every major sector: transport, energy, communication, etc. So sanctions have to be fine-tuned.

My hope, and I think it should be everybody's hope, is that the current disagreement, major disagreement between the U.S. administration and most European governments on the fate of the JCPOA will not prevent us from finding agreement on some particular issues related to Iranian policy. This is why it's extremely important to lower the political temperature on both sides of the Atlantic now that the Trump administration has made its choices, choices that most European governments including myself regret. But that's the situation we're in. but what we don't want is this regime to benefit from a transatlantic crisis over Iran policy and its direct and indirect consequences.

How will Europe approach this new phase? I think it's hard to deny that European businesses will be extraordinarily wary of doing business with Tehran. They know that their economic interests lay more with the United States than with the Islamic Republic. But this does not mean that Europe and the EU in particular will not be willing and able to take targeted sanctions for specific IRGC behavior regarding the missile program, regarding terrorism, or regarding trafficking, for instance. I don't think there will be a new agreement. The French president has for political-for tactical political reason has instructed the French government to work with other European countries on the parameters, the contours of a new agreement. I understand the logic; I am just saying that there will be no new agreement. It is nevertheless important for us to try to continue not build but at least maintain some bridges between the U.S. and Europe on this issue, and this idea of a new agreement I would submit is more important for transatlantic relations and for European unity than for the ultimate fate of the Iranian nuclear program. Nevertheless, the French president heralded nine months ago that he was planning to go to Tehran. Remember that? He will not. I mean I am betting on the fact that he will not. I think he has seen the limits of what is possible and not possible to do vis a vis this current regime. So the mere fact that this trip has been de facto delayed is implicitly I think a good sign in terms of us avoiding too many divergences between Washington and the main European capitals.

In the end, I think sanctions, its common place to say they're not a magic bullet. I will just say they are necessary but insufficient. Sanctions will not bring down this regime. The IRGC of course will not go down without a fight, and it is important as you said, to try to have them evolve against their will if necessary. But ultimately, change in the Republic of Iran will come probably more from the exasperation of the Iranian people themselves due to the mismanagement of the economy, due to the massive corruption, due to the brutality of the IRGC, than only through sanctions. Thank you.