By Hayvi Bouzo and Benjamin Weinthal
May 18, 2021
The Biden administration is considering easing sanctions on the Iranian regime before reaching a nuclear agreement, a move that would only jeopardize the national security interests of the U.S and its Middle East allies. The Iranian people also consider such a move to be dangerous.
The Biden administration must maintain and even increase sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program and ongoing human rights violations.
Some in Washington are urging the Biden administration to lift U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic, saying they are hurting the people in Iran. However, many Iranians advocate taking the exact opposite course.
Recently, Ahmad Obali, a Chicago-based talk show host who broadcasts to the Islamic Republic and is well-known in Iran, asked his viewers on live television: Should the U.S. sanctions be lifted or remain in place? The response was overwhelming, 48 out of 50 callers said they want the Biden administration to maintain sanctions on Iran.
The vast majority of these calls came from inside Iran. Some Iranian callers asked for the sanctions against the regime to be increased until “it’s choked.” Others said that after the Obama administration lifted the sanctions, not a single dollar went to the people.
According to a caller from Shabestar, near Tabriz, the regime used the billions of dollars received from the Obama administration to “build palaces for themselves and feed terrorists.”
Even under the “maximum pressure campaign” the U.S. continued to allow humanitarian goods, including food and medicine, to enter Iran.
The Trump administration offered direct medical assistance to Iran, after the regime’s failure in handling the global coronavirus pandemic. The Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rejected the help, saying in a televised speech on March 22, 2020, that the U.S., “Could be giving medicines to Iran that spread the virus or cause it to remain permanently.”
The maximum pressure campaign imposed by the Trump administration succeeded in bringing the regime to the verge of economic collapse. According to the International Monetary Fund, Iran went from having $122.5 billion of accessible monetary reserves in 2018 to $4 billion in 2020. This gave the Iranian people hope that the regime was weakened and they would finally be able to realize their aspirations for freedom.
On February 1, 2021, 38 activists sent a letter to President Joe Biden, asking for his administration to maintain a maximum pressure campaign on the regime. These activists, who live in Iran, put their lives on the line to send their message. Most of the signatories have been arrested or imprisoned for peaceful political and social activism.
In the letter, the activists explained that relieving the regime of sanctions would bring nothing but an increase in its malign activities in the region.
“The regime spent billions of dollars gained from the  Iran nuclear deal on exporting its totalitarian ideology by providing funds to terrorist networks, developing missile technology as offensive leverage to dominate the Persian Gulf and beyond, and causing chaos in the Middle East,” they wrote.
The signatories stressed their hope that the Biden administration would continue the U.S. maximum pressure campaign, asking for “maintaining maximum political, diplomatic and financial pressure on the regime,” and “advocacy for human rights in Iran and release of all political prisoners and those imprisoned for their personal views.”
Now the Biden administration is insisting on returning to the nuclear deal with Iran before May 22, when a key monitoring deal expires. However, this shouldn’t mean removing the sanctions on issues unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program. Though it was never implemented, this was the declared position of both former President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden when they separately stated in 2015 that a nuclear deal should in no way prohibit Washington from enacting non-nuclear sanctions on Iran.
According to then-Vice President Biden, “Every sanction in place against any entity or individual in Iran for the support and encouragement of terrorism stays in place. Nothing changes.”
In a similar statement, Obama explained that sanctions against Iran on issues related to supporting terrorism, ballistic missiles and human rights violations should be maintained.
“[E]ven with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran – its support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East. Therefore … the United States will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations,” he said.
Iran continues to be one of the world’s biggest violators of human rights. It carries out the most executions per capita in the world; it is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism and it is continuously expanding its ballistic missile program. Maintaining and adding sanctions in regards to these issues would serve the national security interest of the U.S. and its allies, aid in negotiating a stronger nuclear deal and be in line with the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people.