Opening up trade in certain Iranian indus­tries would indi­rectly effect political reform within the country. I Wiki­media Commons

Sanc­tions against Iran have failed. It is time to rene­go­tiate.

Two years after the United States reim­posed eco­nomic sanc­tions on Iran, neither side is closer to its goals: Iran still wants nuclear weapons, and the United States still wants to block its ambi­tions. Not only is the Iranian nuclear program con­tinuing to develop, but U.S. sanc­tions are dec­i­mating the Iranian economy without forcing change in the regime. 

Because of this, the United States should allow trade with certain indus­tries and empower Iranian workers to exact political change from within.

In 2015, the Joint Com­pre­hensive Plan of Action eased sanc­tions against Iran in return for curbed nuclear devel­opment. If nothing else, the JCPOA broke the stalemate and showed the Iranian people what pros­perity could look like if they com­pro­mised with the United States.

Iran’s economy surged. Under recently renewed sanc­tions, however, Iran suffers from massive inflation. Its GDP, exports, and foreign direct investment have all fallen dra­mat­i­cally.

A problem with the “new” sanc­tions is that they are not new. The United States has imposed sanc­tions against Iran almost con­tin­u­ously since 1979, after pro­testers stormed the U.S. embassy and held 66 Amer­icans hostage for more than a year. Over the last 40 years, the Iranian people have adjusted to the scarcity, and the gov­ernment has not changed its anti-American stance.

More than that, Iranian leaders can pro­pa­gandize the sanc­tions to blame the United States for the failures of the regime. Reopening trade with the indus­tries tar­geted by sec­ondary sanc­tions could give ordinary Ira­nians the resources they need to push for reforms.

The Persian rug industry is one such oppor­tunity. Persian rugs are a luxury good with an enduring history and worldwide renown. Each square inch is bound by hun­dreds of knots and fea­tures geo­metric pat­terns and symbols of nature. The quality of the art is so high that the rugs only increase in value over time. The United States is one of the largest markets for the artform, and the JCPOA eased the sec­ondary sanc­tions tar­geting Persian rugs.

Fol­lowing the tight­ening of sanc­tions in 2018, no Persian rugs may enter the United States, which effec­tively blockades the American con­sumer of these goods and dis­rupts an industry that has nothing to do with state-spon­sored ter­rorism, nuclear pro­lif­er­ation, or arms devel­opment.

Many of the weavers are women who have limited options in the male-dom­i­nated work­force. With the removal of sanc­tions against the Persian rug industry, these women would have the oppor­tunity to play a greater role in the economy and, con­se­quently, in the political sphere. Recent impris­on­ments of fem­inist role models in Iran demon­strate a growing unrest among women, and increased political involvement would increase pressure against the regime.

Nego­ti­ating with a country the United States has deemed hostile involves risks. There is the dis­tinct pos­si­bility that funds gen­erated from any exporting industry could be diverted to support the Iranian government’s anti-Western agenda.

Yet decades of sanc­tions have not halted this agenda, and it is time for the United States to reevaluate their purpose. If they are purely sym­bolic, then their effec­tiveness is moot. If they are intended to spur regime change and deter nuclear pro­lif­er­ation, then they have failed.

The long-term change in Iran will not come from outside pressure. It must come from the cit­izens, and the United States can support them by encour­aging indus­tries unre­lated to national security. The Persian rug business is the perfect example of an industry that has a U.S. market and whose trade will form con­nec­tions between the two cul­tures. Forming rela­tion­ships through common interests, rather than cutting off ties for 40 years, will set the stage for eco­nomic pros­perity and regime change.


Kathleen Hess is a junior studying inter­na­tional business and German