The topic took centre stage at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida last night when Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney squared off in the final debate before the 2012 election on 6 November.
Few would argue that economic and trade sanctions weren’t tightened during Obama’s four year stay at the White House but Romney argued that the nation should take an even stronger stance against Tehran’s alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
In the last half of the debate Romney said: “I would tighten those sanctions [if elected]. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil can't come into our ports. I imagine the EU would agree with us as well. Not only ships couldn't, but I'd say companies that are moving their oil can't, people who are trading in their oil can't. I would tighten those sanctions further...”
TradeWinds caught up with Holland & Knight’s Jonathan Epstein, a Washington, DC-based attorney who specialises in foreign affairs and international trade, to put Romney’s commentary to the test in the context of maritime shipping and trade law.
“A foreign flag vessel cannot carry oil [originating in Iran] to the US,” he pointed out. “I suspect Govenor Romney was really suggesting something similar to legislation proposed last year that would have barred any vessel that calls in Iran and Syria, or North Korea from calling on the US for 180 days. That legislation passed the House in December, but never progressed.”
When asked if the noose could be pulled even tighter as Romney suggested in his speech Epstein noted the US is already pushing for stronger multi-lateral sanctions and while it may be difficult to achieve he said these are likely to be “much more effective than unilateral sanctions”.
“To the extent the US imposes and enforces unilateral extraterritorial sanctions on foreign entities, this may ultimately prove less effective,” Epstein continued before he was pressed for an opinion about how the Obama Administration has handled trade with Iran in the recent past.
“They got it right in seeking multi-lateral sanctions over the unilateral approach taken by the previous administration as the multi-lateral sanction against Iran have been much more effective,” he told TradeWinds Tuesday.
“Who knows what a new administration would do?," the attorney continued, "Certainly a move back toward Bush era unilateral sanctions approach would, in my opinion, be counterproductive.”
When asked about which box on the election ballot he intends to check two weeks from today, Epstein said “no comment”.