Led by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Congress moved recently to place new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.

Certainly, the United States must remain active in its efforts to deter Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, but these broad-based sanctions are likely to be counterproductive. We should instead stick to a policy of targeted sanctions and diplomacy.

Far beyond penalizing the people directly involved in Iran’s nuclear program, these proposed sanctions would negatively affect Iran’s entire civilian population. Much like the U.S. Federal Reserve, Iran’s central bank is responsible for stabilizing Iran’s currency. Its collapse would have dreadful implications for Iran’s people. It would force ordinary Iranians to struggle to buy the most essential goods, increase poverty, and spike anti-American sentiment.

The sanctions would go into effect six months after President Barack Obama signs the law calling for them, based on a determination that has to do with oil supplies. They could impact everyday Americans if they trigger higher oil prices, leading in turn to increases in the cost of gasoline, food, and heat. With the Great Recession still underway, we can’t afford another setback.

These sanctions would also punish companies that do business with Iran. While the United States doesn’t do business with the country, many foreign companies do. Sanctioning these companies could create tension that would limit international support for future efforts to pressure Iran.

President Barack Obama has already taken actions that are having an impact on Iran’s nuclear program. Targeted sanctions have left the country without key materials required to build up its nuclear facilities, and Washington is pursuing further sanctions that are stricter than those imposed by the European Union. Obama is continuing to build support from other countries to increase pressure on Iran. The broad sanctions being pursued by Congress would jeopardize this crucial international support.

The United States can’t afford to be inactive, but we also cannot afford to make matters worse.

In the face of numerous setbacks and increasing international pressure, Iran isn’t on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons. Although the United States doesn’t have an infinite amount of time to deal with this threat, it doesn’t need to rush to a solution either.

The available time must be used to carefully evaluate the options that are available. The United States must target only those Iranians actively involved in the country’s nuclear program while continuing to reach out to Iran for a diplomatic solution.

Allowing Iran to become a political issue or allowing fear to govern our policymaking is counterproductive. Iran is a concern for the United States, but we must not give up on the chance for a peaceful solution by needlessly assaulting Iran’s civilian population.

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Andrew Carpenter

Andrew Carpenter is an intern at the Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation pursuing his Masters from the University of Pittsburgh. www.armscontrolcenter.org
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