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US and Iran: Could Romney be tougher than Obama? Unlikely.

Short of conducting a unilateral military strike or declaring war against the Islamic Republic, a Romney administration would be faced with the same legislative options on Iran as President Obama, who has already administered them.      

By Roshanak TaghaviCorrespondent / October 21, 2012

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Oct. 2. Ahmadinejad blames the steep drop in Iran's currency to "psychological pressures" linked to Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.

Vahid Salemi/AP

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WASHINGTON

In the run-up to Monday’s debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the most disputed foreign policy issue hasn’t been Afghanistan, where roughly 68,000 US troops are still based in the fight against Al Qaeda, or the contentious decision by the Obama administration to withdraw US troops from Iraq.  

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As moderator Martha Raddatz said at the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate, the biggest national security threat faced by the United States is now considered to be the Islamic Republic of Iran

“Every American is less secure today because [President Obama] has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat,” Mitt Romney said at the Republican National Convention in August. The Republican candidate has since argued that Mr. Obama hasn’t been tough enough on Tehran, and he has vowed to institute a different, harsher sanctions program that will be sure to cripple the Islamic Republic.    

But analysts, legal experts, and US-allied diplomats say that when it comes to sanctions on Iran, US legislation isn't expected to differ much from one administration to another. Short of conducting a unilateral military strike or declaring war against the Islamic Republic, a Romney administration would be faced with the same legislative options on Iran as President Obama, who has already administered them.      

Obama vs. Romney 101: 3 ways they differ on Iran

Former President George W. Bush began implementing legislation for harsher financial sanctions against Iran during his last two years in office. After the 2008 presidential election, the Obama administration instituted and expanded those sanctions at a speed that has made current US sanctions policy on Iran the harshest in contemporary history. This leaves a potential new Romney administration with few policy alternatives.

“The only thing Romney can really do to get to the right of Obama on Iran policy is to say he'd bomb Iran if elected president, or would actively promote and pursue a policy of regime change,” says Karim Sajadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Given the misgivings Americans have about the Iraq war, I don't think those are winning talking points for him.”

Since Obama became president in 2009, his administration has used a carrot-and-stick approach with the Islamic Republic, practicing a policy of limited engagement while boosting the implementation of Bush-era financial sanctions against Tehran and enacting new, tighter financial restrictions. 

Iran’s economy began feeling the bite of new US and United Nations sanctions during the last two years of former President Bush’s second term in office. When Obama became president, the US Treasury Department upped the ante on Iran sanctions, accelerating their implementation and obtaining concrete commitments from US allies and private international entities to institute them as well.

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