How to deal with Iran has been one of the United States' most contentious foreign policy issues in recent years – namely whether sanctions (by the US, UN, and EU) are doing enough to deter Iran's possible nuclear weapon program. US sanctions were first imposed in 1979 following the Iranian hostage crisis and have been renewed and expanded since then. In March 2010 the US renewed a ban on trade and investment with Iran, and in July 2010 Congress passed additional actions targeting Iran’s energy sector.
The UN Security Council and European Union have also imposed sanctions on Iran. But are they working? In July, Iran government spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the EU sanctions would "have no impact."
A Council on Foreign Relations briefing on Iran’s economy said that Iranian officials have publicly acknowledged that US sanctions have hindered Iran’s economic development. The US hopes that the economic pressure will become great enough that Iran feels forced to give up its nuclear program for the sake of its economic health. The verdict is still out on whether the combined impact of EU, US, and UN sanctions will accomplish that.
“We don’t know if a sanctions regime will affect [Iran’s] nuclear program,” François Heisbourg of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, told the Monitor in July. “We simply don’t. The only difference between doing sanctions, and doing nothing, is that doing nothing means nothing will happen.”