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Iran sanctions a test for U.S.-European relations, a Mason professor says

November 6, 2018

Mark N. Katz

The economic sanctions the United States imposed on Iran could strain relations with U.S. allies in Europe, who see Russia as a much bigger threat, a George Mason University professor said.

Those allies also do not see a level playing field in relation to how the United States enforces sanctions against Russia, said Mark N. Katz, a professor of government and politics in Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

“While we want our European allies to follow the sanctions on Iran, we don’t insist our Middle East allies comply with sanctions against Russia,” Katz said. “From the European point of view, there does seem to be a double standard:] ‘If you want us to be concerned with sanctions with Iran, you have to be concerned with sanctions against parties we are interested in.’”

The sanctions, which primarily aim to cut Iran’s oil industry from international sales, come after the United States pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with several world powers in May.

The Washington Post reported that the hope is the pain from sanctions will convince Iran to stop supporting militants in the Middle East, stop testing missiles and treat its citizens with more respect.

“Sanctions don’t hurt the U.S. economy because we do so little trading with Iran to begin with,” Katz said. “But when we apply sanctions to others and insist they comply, there are real costs.”

Europeans “simply don’t see Iran as the same level of threat that America’s Middle Eastern allies see it as,” Katz added. “The same is true for our Asian allies. For them, the main concern is China. In Iran, they simply see a useful supplier of oil.”

Already, Katz said, Europeans are trying to work around the sanctions with non-U.S. dollar transactions with Iran.

“In Europe they’re talking about whether they need to make their own arrangements,” Katz said. “If they can’t rely on the U.S. to look out for their interests, do they need to rely more on themselves?”

“American influence in the world isn’t simply a function of our military strength,” Katz said. “It also is a function of the willingness of others to work with us. To the extent that image is undermined, that does not help our influence in the world.”

Mark N. Katz can be reached at 703-993-1420 or mkatz@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 37,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.