Brian O'Toole

  • Trump Sanctions Iran’s Supreme Leader

    US President Donald J. Trump on June 24 signed an executive order that he said would place “hard-hitting” sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader.


    “The Supreme Leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime. He’s respected within his country.  His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Trump said before signing the order in the White House. “These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions,” he added.

    The executive order allows US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on officials appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and those who provide material support to his office. “These sanctions will deny Iran’s leadership access to financial resources,

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  • Trump Policy, Not Sanctions, to Blame for Poor US Response to Iran Floods

    The recent record flooding in Iran has killed dozens, inundated nearly 2,000 villages and cities across Iran, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to the country’s infrastructure. 

    The Trump administration’s response through the State Department, predictably, has been to offer unspecified support to the Iranian people while at the same time sharply criticizing Tehran for environmental mismanagement that exacerbates the severity of the flooding. Setting aside the accuracy of any such criticism, the ham-handed US response to this natural disaster has again exposed the Trump administration’s inability to execute a nuanced policy. It is clear that the “maximum pressure” campaign and policy mindset are harming the ordinary Iranians that President Donald Trump and his surrogates proclaim to want to help. 

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  • Mueller’s Findings: What Do They Mean for US Foreign Policy?

    Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s long-awaited investigation has not found adequate evidence to prove US President Donald J. Trump or any of his aides colluded with the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election. The investigation did not determine “one way or the other” whether Trump had illegally obstructed justice, according to a letter delivered to Congress by US Attorney General William Barr.


    Barr made a summary of Mueller’s findings public on March 24.


    “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller wrote in the findings released by the Justice Department.


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  • O'Toole quoted in Newsweek on Putin's wealth


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  • New Legislation Presents Impactful But Measured Way Forward on Russia Sanctions

    Driven by understandable distrust of US President Donald Trump’s continued relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a bipartisan group of US senators have introduced legislation that, if passed, compels the Trump administration to increase the pressure on Moscow. The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2019, or DASKAA, is a revisited, and improved version of the similarly named bill that was introduced in response to Trump’s widely panned July 2018 summit with Putin in Helsinki. Several additional Russian-related outrages later, this bill introduced by Senators Graham, Menendez, Cardin, Gardner, and Shaheen likely has a better chance of becoming law than its predecessor, which languished in a Congress distracted by a Supreme Court fight, the summer recess, a competing Russia sanctions bill, and the pre-election

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  • A Breakdown of the Sanctions Deal between the United States and Oleg Deripaska

    On January 16, a US Senate resolution to maintain US sanctions on the Russian aluminum giant RUSAL and its holding company EN+ failed to garner the necessary 60 votes to pass. As a result, the Trump administration lifted its economic sanctions on RUSAL and EN+ on January 27.

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  • O'Toole Quoted in Newsweek on Impact of Sanctions on Russian Economy


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  • O'Toole Quoted in Foreign Policy on EU Workaround to US Iran Sanctions


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  • Facing Reality: Europe’s Special Purpose Vehicle Will Not Challenge US Sanctions

    The European Union on January 31 formally announced its long-awaited special purpose vehicle (SPV) for trade with Iran, called the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX). 

    Predictably, the SPV won’t seek to challenge US sanctions by attempting to conduct sanctionable trade with Iran as had been originally floated, and will instead focus on non-sanctionable trade, including humanitarian goods—food, medicine, and medical devices—exempt from US sanctions. It’s clear from the European announcement that there was no real market in the EU, especially from Europe’s financial institutions, to take on the risk of being sanctioned by the United States. But this doesn’t mean that the SPV will be feckless; instead it will serve an important role in conducting the humanitarian trade that US sanctions policy encourages, but harsh US rhetoric and risk-averse...

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  • O'Toole Quoted in The Washington Examiner on Trump Weighing Oil Embargo on Venezuela


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