At the same time, the hardships have not triggered significant domestic protests or produced a single concession by Iran on its nuclear program. Although weakened, Iran has resisted Western pressure through a combination of clever tactics, political repression and old-fashioned stubbornness, analysts say.
The mixed results from the sanctions complicate the West’s bargaining position ahead of the next round of nuclear talks with Iran, in early April. At the last round, in February, the United States and five other world powers offered significant new concessions to Iran in exchange for curtailment of its uranium-enrichment program, but Iran has neither accepted the proposal nor offered concessions of its own. Iran’s continuing resistance also will make it tougher for President Obama to reassure Israeli and Arab allies when he arrives in the region midweek.
The Iranian regime shows no sign of giving in. On Thursday, a powerful cleric taunted the U.S. administration, vowing that economic pressure could never force Iran to abandon its nuclear program.
“The Iranian nation is committed to resist arrogant powers, including the United States,” said Ali Saeedi, the Iranian supreme leader’s personal representative to the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Obama administration officials insist that the full effect of sanctions is not yet apparent, and they say Iran’s economic pain will deepen in the coming months. Still, U.S. and European officials and diplomats acknowledge that they are waiting for clear signs that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, is willing to change course.
Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, said Iran has accelerated its nuclear program in the past year, despite the diplomatic and economic pressure. Iran continues “enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose” and is probably using negotiations to stall for time, Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5.
“I’m paid to take a rather dim view of the Iranians, frankly,” he added.
Although Iran has been under U.S. sanctions since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the restrictions imposed last summer were the most significant attempt to hit its oil sector and central bank. The results surprised even the strongest advocates of sanctions: Exports of Iranian oil, Tehran’s chief source of hard currency, fell to about 1 million barrels a day a year ago from more than 2.4 million barrels. At the same time, restrictions on Iran’s main banking institutions crippled the country’s ability to conduct business transactions abroad, with consequences that have rippled across the economy.