Economic Sanctions Initiative

  • Trump’s New Cuba Policy Threatens to Reignite Historic Disagreement With Key Allies

    The Trump administration broke another policy precedent with its March 4 decision to activate a decades-old US law on Cuba, ostensibly to punish Cuba for propping up Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela and for its ongoing suppression of human rights, as well as to put additional pressure on Maduro to step down. The unilateral policy decision threatens to further antagonize key US allies, particularly the European Union (EU) and Canada—both of whom have otherwise been largely consistent with the Trump administration on Venezuela policy—while likely stopping short of achieving the desired impacts on Havana and Caracas.

    For the first time since enactment of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (...
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  • A Conversation with Former Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew


    On Tuesday, February 19, the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics program’s Economic Sanction Initiative hosted a public discussion featuring former US Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.


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  • Buy-In From Allies Critical for Effective Sanctions, Says Former US Treasury Secretary Lew

    US approaches to Iran and Venezuela provide a study in contrasts

    While the Trump administration’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran will be ineffective because the United States does not “have the support of our allies,” its approach to Venezuela—working in concert with friends—“represents more the way things ought to be done,” former US Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on February 19.

    As the Trump administration and the US Congress increasingly view sanctions as effective means to achieve the United States’ foreign policy objectives, Lew, who also served as White House chief of staff to then President Barack Obama, had some advice: “Sanctions are most effective when there is broad buy-in around the world amongst our allies.”


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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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  • 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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  • New Venezuela Sanctions Need Timely Results

    On January 28, the Trump administration again turned to sanctions to ratchet up pressure on Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro to step down.

    The new sanctions measures severely limit key US revenue streams for PdVSA—Venezuela’s state-owned oil and natural gas company—by mandating that any money intended for PdVSA be deposited into blocked accounts, accessible only with authorization from the Trump administration. While PdVSA’s US subsidiary, Citgo, may continue to purchase and import petroleum products (at least until July 27), all payments must also be made into a US-based blocked account. Should that authorization expire, the result will effectively be a US oil embargo affecting a major source of crude oil for the southern United States. Further, the sanctions ...
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  • Congress Should Explain How Dark Russian Money Infiltrates Western Democracies

    This is the second in a two-part series.

     

    One should expect a heated national debate about the political implications for US President Donald J. Trump once the key findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation become public. Few will stop at that point to ask what the evidence shows about how Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was possible, and what must be done now to protect American democracy and counter continued Russian hybrid warfare.


    Open hearings in Congress can help focus public attention on those important matters of national security policy with a particular focus on the vulnerabilities that are not yet well understood. If Americans were asked to identify Russia’s lines of attack in 2016, the answers would probably include the cyber hack-and-dump operations, the disinformation campaign on social media, and possibly some classic human espionage. Less appreciated is the extent to which foreign adversaries

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  • O'Toole Quoted in Newsweek on House Republicans voting against Trump Administration lifting sanctions on oligarchs


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  • Memo to Congress: Treasury’s Plan to Lift Sanctions on Russian Oligarch’s Companies is a Good One

    US lawmakers must not allow understandable concerns about US President Donald J. Trump’s views of Russia to overshadow the technical merits of the administration’s divestiture plan to remove sanctions on aluminum giant Rusal and two other companies—EN+ and EuroSibEnergo, or ESE—sanctioned for their ties to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. After months of negotiations, Treasury officials have arrived at a delisting arrangement worthy of careful consideration and approval.


    US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s January 10 congressional briefing on the details of the administration’s divestiture plan,  and the ongoing attention to this issue, sharpens the debate on whether the Rusal delisting is the appropriate action and whether Congress ought to exercise its authority under the Countering America’s Adversaries

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