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Columbia Energy Exchange

The Art of Sanctions in Russia and Iran


Richard Nephew and Eddie Fishman

Delegations from Kyiv and Moscow met in Belarus yesterday for the first round of talks which resulted in no resolution. At the same time Russian rockets battered Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, killing and wounding dozens, and leaving much uncertainty on what’s to come next.

Sanctions have been the primary tool by the West to deter Russian aggression and de-escalate the tenuous situation. In this episode host Jason Bordoff speaks with international sanctions experts Richard Nephew and Eddie Fishman about the global energy implications of these diplomacy challenges. 

Nephew recently rejoined the Center On Global Energy Policy as a senior research scholar. He’s the author of “The Art Of Sanctions,” and was most recently the US Deputy Special Envoy for Iran under the Biden administration where he played a key role in negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal.

Fishman is an adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. From 2015 to 2017, he worked at the US State Department and advised Secretary of State John Kerry on Europe and Eurasia, leading policy work around economic sanctions. 

Their discussion focuses on Russia’s global oil and gas exports, the near and long-term outcomes of economic sanctions on the Russian economy and the prospects for a revived Iran nuclear deal. 


Richard Nephew [00:00:02]: I’ve not heard any U.S. or European official at this point enunciate what is the objective of the sanctions campaign other than to make Putin stop? Well, the stop means he stops, right? The invasion literally stops where it is right now. Does the stop mean, do you recognize the independence of the breakaway provinces? Does it mean that he gives back Crimea? Is that now back on the table? None of those things have actually been laid out

Jason Bordoff [00:00:27]: After months of tension, Russia has launched a full scale military invasion of neighboring Ukraine. As of Monday, February 28th, peace negotiations have begun in the Ukraine Belarus border. But dozens of lives have already been lost in response to the escalating violence. The U.S. and EU have jointly announced sweeping sanctions on the Russian government, Russian companies and on Putin himself. Meanwhile, efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are simultaneously in the works. Negotiators in Vienna have reached a place where a deal is possible, but points of contention remain. What are the energy implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the associated sanctions? And how can the Biden administration and European nations already dealing with foreign policy challenges from Afghanistan to Iran respond to Russian aggression and mitigate the harm of this conflict?

This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Jason Bordoff. Today on the show, two experts who can unpack these diplomacy challenges and what they mean for energy, Richard Nephew and Eddie Fishman. Richard is back with us at the Center on Global Energy Policy as a senior research scholar. His expertise lies in military deterrence, international sanctions policy and nuclear weapons. He’s been on leave for the last year, serving in the Biden administration as the U.S. deputy special envoy for Iran, where he played a key role in negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal. He recently left that position over disagreements about how he saw the deal unfolding, as we talk about in the podcast. He’s also held positions in the Department of State handling sanctions policy and served as the director for Iran on the National Security Council staff. And Eddie Fishman is an adjunct professor of international and public affairs here at Columbia SIPA. He is also a non-resident fellow here at the Center on Global Energy Policy. From 2015 to 2017, he worked at the U.S. Department of State as a member of the secretary’s policy planning staff. In our conversation, Richard Netty explain how the military invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions could impact gas supplies in Europe and energy markets around the world. We also discussed the outlook for an Iran nuclear deal and what lifting sanctions on Iran could mean for global oil supplies in what is the first public interview Richard Nephew has given since leaving the Biden administration a few weeks ago. This episode plays into fast moving geopolitical stories with big consequences, and I hope you find it helpful in making sense of what’s happening in the world right now. Richard Nephew Eddie Fishman Welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange and Eddie, welcome to Columbia University as our newest nonresident fellow and Richard nephew. Welcome back to the Center on Global Energy Policy after your service in the Biden administration. Thanks for your service and it’s great to have you back on the team.

Nephew [00:03:21]: Well, thanks. It’s great to be back and glad to speak with both you and Eddie. Eddie was an old friend in government as well, so it feels like the band’s getting back together.

Eddie Fishman [00:03:30]: Yeah, it’s quite the reunion. And Jason, thanks so much for the welcome.

Bordoff [00:03:34]: It’s great to have both of you with us, both this morning and at the Center on Global Energy Policy more broadly and couldn’t really be more timely, given that the whole world is focusing once again on sanctions as a tool of diplomacy and economic statecraft, something. Richard, you wrote a whole book about when you were here. So I want to start with the news of the day, and then I want to shift a little bit to reflecting on your experience in the administration where you were with Iran. Both of those highly relevant to the energy sector, of course, both Russia and Iran. But let’s just start with what everyone is really deeply focused on now. It can get pretty complicated when you look at how sanctions are being implemented against Russia for their aggression in Ukraine. So if we could just level set A. Maybe I’ll start with you. Just help everyone understand what has been done to date by the U.S. and Europe when it comes to sanctions being applied against Russia.

Fishman [00:04:34]: Sure, Jason. And honestly, it’s almost difficult to answer that question because the last few days have been a complete whirlwind. Just to you know, go back to where we started about a week ago,the sanctions that were imposed on Russia in 2014 really have stayed as the most impactful sanctions for the last eight years. They haven’t escalated all that much since the initial wave of sanctions in 2014. And one of the things that we did in 2014 is when we targeted the largest Russian companies, be it Rosneft, the oil giant or spare bank. We didn’t actually block them. We didn’t cut them off from the US financial system. We imposed more scalpel like sanctions that were really just limiting their access to debt and equity on Western financial markets. So we started from a pretty low baseline and Russia sanctions. And then when Putin declared that he was going to recognize the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic, the United States started by actually imposing full blocking sanctions. So these are the sort of toughest sanctions we have. A full cut off from the US financial system on a bank called VEB. VEB is a Russian state owned development bank with about $50 billion in assets. It’s definitely a big fish. But you know, it’s not by any means, you know, one of the most important, you know, components of the Russian economy. The reason I’m starting there is that in and of itself was a big escalation. It was the first time the United States had imposed full blocking sanctions on a major Russian financial institution, and that was only a few days ago, right? That was, you know, I guess, a week ago at this point.

Bordoff [00:06:16]: And when you say full blocking sanctions, that just means complete cut off from the financial system.

Fishman [00:06:23]: Exactly, all transactions. US persons are prohibited from all transactions with thVEB and their assets are entirely frozen.

That’s what it means. Right, so it’s not it’s not like VEB is prohibited from raising debt on western capital markets. It’s not like they can’t sell shares in western capital markets. They can’t do all those things, but they can’t do anything, right. It’s a complete freeze out. The reason I start there, Jason, is that in of itself is a significant escalation. What’s happened since is honestly dramatic, and it’s surprised me and I’ve watched these things for a long time. We’ve gone from from VEB being sanctioned to VTB, which is actually Russia’s second largest bank, and it holds 15 percent of the assets in the Russian banking sector sanctioned a day later. And that was a substantial move. There are also actions against Spare Bank, which is Russia’s largest bank. And by then, I think a lot of us and Richard, I’m curious for your perspective, but a lot of us were even amazed that we had gone that far. And then over the weekend, a real bombshell, the Central Bank of Russia and as announced this morning, were talking on Monday, the Central Bank of Russia has been effectively cut off entirely from the U.S. financial system. This is the single largest sanctions target in the Russian economy, more than 600 billion dollars in assets. By comparison, I believe when we started imposing sanctions on Iran, really escalating them back when you know, Richard was leading the show, the Iranian economy wasn’t even $600 billion in GDP. So this is just a really unprecedented sanctions action that was taken this morning. So by now, where we are, where we stand, the Central Bank of Russia is cut off from the U.S. financial system, and VTB, the second largest bank, is cut off from the US financial system. There are significant restrictions on spare bank and other large Russian banks. There’s also significant export controls on critical export technologies to Russia. So we’re getting quite close to a fairly comprehensive sanctions regime. We’re not there yet. We can talk about some of the gaps, but where we stand now is, you know, we’ve gone from a two out of 10 on the escalation ladder to maybe an eight out of 10 in less than a week.

Bordoff [00:08:38]: Is that your sense, Richard? Two out of ten to eight out of 10?

Nephew [00:08:43]: Yeah, something near. I mean, I think, you know, I agree with everything you just said. I’ll just add two additional dimensions to it. I mean, I think, you know, one is the international cooperation that’s also come along with us, right? So, you know, the most effective sanctions that you can put in place are those that have multinational support and obviously the gold standard that is the U.N. and U.N. Security Council sanctions. That’s not happening so long as Russia has a veto. Remember, we saw that over the weekend as well where, you know, in the last week where there was an attempt at a resolution that failed because of Russian veto. So if you can’t get that, then you have to have a coalition, you know, come together. In this case, the coalition is is not only quite broad, but it’s also quite deep, you know, involving, you know, the most significant global economies in Europe and Asia that have all come together to apply some of these tools in their own various different legal constructs. So that to me, even more than just the U.S. national peace. That’s what also brings us from that to to an eight out of 10. I think the second thing that’s interesting about all of this is that we’ve done this using a lot more brute force from a sanctions perspective, but still keeping things carved out that are in the U.S. and global economic interests. So you’ll note that Eddie didn’t mention anywhere in there, and we’re banning Russian oil and gas sales, right? Didn’t mention anywhere in there that we’re not going to allow them to be able to to sell all those and to even potentially get the earnings deposited in the accounts of Gazprom, Rosneft, et cetera. And the reason why is because in addition to putting a lot of pressure in, we’ve also been pretty careful to avoid doing things that could have global spillover effects and potentially undermine that coalition. So it’s not only a really big sanctions regime, but really significant sanctions regime. It’s still a pretty smart and targeted sanctions regime. And that more than anything to me is as a practitioner is pretty impressive.

Bordoff [00:10:41]: Well, let me I was going to come to energy, of course, and so wanted to talk about that. But and that’s what I learned from your book, Richard and working with you. How do you think about using a tool like sanctions to impose maximum economic pain on the target while minimizing the pain that might ricochet onto yourself, which is hard in a really integrated global economy? Generally speaking, certainly that’s true for energy. So help me understand before we come to energy To what extent, what the implications of what we’ve done so far will be so particularly, say with the central bank of Russia what it means for the Russian economy and also what are there? Are there effects that will spillover back onto the U.S. and Europe, Betty?

Fishman [00:11:24]: Sure. To be candid, Jason, when you’re imposing sanctions on an entity as large and as. Systemically significant as the central bank of Russia, it is impossible to perfectly forecast what the consequences are going to be. So I just want to put that out there. You know, this is not an action that you could ever take lightly. It’s something that I think was the right course of action. I want to stress that I think the Biden administration, this was the right move to take, but it was a courageous move and partly because you just can’t fully forecast what the consequences are going to be. But in terms of affecting everyday Russians and Russian society, you know, unfortunately, it already has, right, I mean, even before the sanctions were unveiled. So the sanctions went into effect this morning, literally minutes ago, the prohibition went into effect. What you saw on Saturday was just an announcement of an intent. And already over the weekend, we saw pretty substantial bank runs and financial panic in Russia. ATM lines all around the block, banks running out of pretty much all paper hard currency, you know, no dollars really anywhere to be found in Russia. And so this is sort of classic financial panic. Another sort of sign of financial panic, Jason, that’s interesting is Fairbanks, European subsidiary, according to the ECB, is actually on the brink of failure. So we’re probably going to see a sort of substantial banking failure coming out of these sanctions. The reason I say it’s interesting is that Springbank actually has not been targeted with full blocking sanctions, and the EU has not targeted its fairbank at all yet. So but that’s telling me is that the impact of these actions isn’t even just affecting their targets. It’s affecting adjacent institutions in the Russian financial sector already. What can be done to lessen unintended consequences? Well, you know, customarily and certainly this time as well, the US issues what are called general licenses or gels that prohibit or that permit some forms of transactions to continue to occur, including for food, medicine and medical devices. As Richard mentioned earlier, and they’ve also included general licenses for energy because it’s an explicit objective of the Western countries not to block Russia’s oil and gas sales. That’s not one of the objectives of sanctions. But to be candid, these sanctions already are having a dramatic impact on Russian society, and it will be felt broadly across Russian society, from everyday Russians to the elite. And you can see that the elite is clearly being affected, given that even folks who are quite close to Putin, like Oleg Deripaska, are coming out and trying to distance themselves from Putin’s war in Ukraine. But yes, these consequences are dramatic, and I think their real question is, you know, can they affect Moscow’s policy? Is there still room for Putin to pull back from the brink? Because certainly the costs to Russia had already been brought to bear and will only worsen in the days ahead?

Bordoff [00:14:33]: Yeah. Well, I’d love your thoughts about that, Richard. Broader question, of course, than just sanctions. But you know, the question that he’s asking is what’s the endgame here? And to what effect are you putting these sanctions in place? Is there a face saving way? One thinks Vladimir Putin is willing to step back from what he has started. Does this lead to regime change because there are lines at the ATM among the people in Russia? How do you think about the goal of sanctions if they’re successful? What happens?

Nephew [00:15:03]: Yeah, this is where we’ve been kind of in an interesting spot over the course of the last couple of months because the initial goal of the sanctions threat was clear deterrence, right? It was to say to Russia and to say to Putin, just don’t go there. If you do, there will be overwhelming consequences. And I think in the initial couple of hours of the sanctions, campaign, the administration, the E.U. and other partners were intending to do effectively shots across the bow with some significant steps. As Eddie pointed out, you know, by actually imposing a blocking sanction for the first time on a Russian financial institution to say this is a place we’re prepared to go now and we weren’t prepared to do in the past. Now we are and over the last couple of days, they’ve clearly ratcheted up to signal as the invasion has proceeded, we can go pretty high. I think that the issues that come in, though, are twofold. One, as you were pointing out. When do you stop and what is an acceptable outcome here? I’ve not heard any U.S. or European official at this point enunciate what is the objective of the sanctions campaign other than to make Putin stop? Well, the stop mean he stops the invasion literally stops where it is right now. Does the stop mean, you know, do you recognize the independence of the breakaway provinces? Does it mean that he gives back Crimea? Is that now back on the table? None of those things have actually been laid out, and to some extent that makes sense. You know, Duleep saying, you know, the Dippenaar security adviser was asked the question. He said, Listen, it’s early days. We’re still figuring this out and what we’re going to do. Let’s concentrate on making this work and then we can figure out what we do here make some degree of sense. But I think that there needs to be a conversation going on with the Europeans and others because very soon I would guess that there are going to be olive branches coming out saying if we just stopped here, is that enough? And, you know, maybe we can let things alone with the breakaway provinces having left. Is that good enough? And there’s going to be differences of view. I’m sure the Ukrainians are going to have a. Different view than folks in Europe are going to have a different view than the U.S. and others. So, you know, in terms of my expectation, my guess is that there’s going to be a pretty sharp desire to have Russia withdraw altogether from Ukraine and to forswear any infringements of Ukrainian sovereignty, maybe even in Eastern Europe more generally. But certainly they’re going to be some voices in Europe that is going to say maybe we ought not go that far. I think the other interesting thing about this in terms of the impact is the question about whether or not this is the moment which Putin can potentially be brought to a fault now, they have the regime collapse. I would just say, having watched a lot of sanctions regimes be imposed on a lot of autocratic regimes, we shouldn’t be expecting that to happen any time soon. Yeah. ATM lines are pretty ugly. Yeah, bank runs are pretty ugly. Just ask Maduro how he feels about economic problems leading to political collapse. I think it’s far more likely that you’re going to have people in the upper echelons of the Russian government saying, we’ve got to knock this off and then maybe taking care of things on their own. Whereas with Putin, then I do think that there’s any likelihood of some sort of popular upswell of opinion that leads Putin to resign or leave office or any of those sorts of things. I don’t think that’s terribly likely. So our sense have got to be set a little lower, and that’s OK because our objectives really at this point are about Ukrainian sovereignty.

Bordoff [00:18:30]: Yeah. And I’d love to hear your thoughts. I mean, Richard talked about the upper echelon. So also sort of it does clearly seem the administration and European strategy is targeted toward the elite, the oligarchs, the people who may be influential around Putin. How does that strategy play out? And then this broader question of of what the endgame is? Richard mentioned Maduro. Lots of people will look at the history of the use of sanctions and say they can impose economic pain, but they don’t necessarily have a great track record of achieving the policy objective you have. Why do we think this time will be different?

Fishman [00:19:02]: I think it’s really important what Richard said about regime change. Sanctions have an abysmal track record of causing regime change, and I don’t think that’s a reasonable goal for a sanctions policy right now. So I think but let’s just set that aside, I’m sure many of us would love to see a post, Putin, Russia, the Russian people certainly deserve better. But I don’t think that that is a reasonable or viable goal of Western policy right now.

So what you know what our sanctions aiming to achieve? I think there’s both a near-term and a long term goal in the near term goal is to create a enough pressure internally in Russia to persuade the Kremlin. And obviously, Putin is the chief decision maker, but also those around him to find a way out of this current crisis in Ukraine to find a way to pull back from the war in Ukraine. Right now, there are negotiations ongoing on the Belarussian border between Ukraine and Belarus. You know, let’s see what comes out of that. Right? I think that it’s possible that Putin underestimated how devastating these costs would be on Russia’s economy. That’s my personal opinion. Some folks thought that sanctions could never deter Putin just because he doesn’t care about the economy. I don’t believe that. I think that there is a social contract that Putin upholds, even though he is a dictator, and that if Putin had force foreseen that, you know, within days of him invading Ukraine not only in the United States, but the EU and the entire G-7 would have imposed sanctions on the Central Bank of Russia. I’m not so sure he would have taken this action, Jason. I think he underestimated just how dire these consequences would be. So do you think there’s still some chance? I’m not saying likelihood or likely outcome, but some chance that does try to find a way to pull back. Right? That’s why I actually think it’s incumbent upon the West today to put out statements about what it would take for them to roll back these sanctions against the Central Bank of Russia in particular. I don’t think that these sanctions against the Central Bank of Russia have an enduring strategic benefit. I think it’s really to blunt this specific invasion of Ukraine. But there is a long term goal to Jason that I mentioned, and that is, you know, look, some Western leaders, some policy analysts have had some illusions, I believe, about Putin for some time and have thought that, you know, he’s ultimately someone you could deal with. You could play ball with. You know, that hasn’t been the perspective of everyone. Certainly, I know that many of our people, I know that probably would have wanted these sanctions to go into effect after Putin invaded Georgia in 2008. Right? You know, we’re certainly Ukraine in 2014 or Syria in 2015. But I think it’s quite clear to everyone in. The world right now that so long as Putin is president of Russia, we have absolutely zero interest in helping him find his military machine and helping him reap the benefits of the global economy to funnel into destabilizing and ultimately trying to overturn the international order. So what does that mean? I think that there is an important strategic rationale to continue with some of these sanctions in place well beyond even the current crisis. Certainly the export controls at the very least, but probably a fair amount of the others as well. I think it’s a legitimate goal of U.S. policy to degrade Russian capabilities and to weaken Russian national power. And that’s not something that we’re always comfortable with. We like talking about sanctions as a tool of bad behavior change. But I don’t think that is quite accurate when it comes to Russia at this point.

Nephew [00:22:55]: And if I can just jump in there to Jason and I think I think what’s interesting as well is this the degree to which this isn’t just a Russia Ukraine issue too, right? What’s interesting about, you know, this entire scenario is it’s also being contrast against what’s going on in Taiwan and the potential threat from China to take back Taiwan militarily and to put down any hopes of independence in Taiwan. It’s being talked about as a potential lesson about how, you know, global power imbalances have shifted and are now increasingly multipolar world. There’s a lot of different things that are going on here, and I think that this is but also feeds into us, European and other calculations and certainly will as they consider, you know what, what it would take to take off the sanctions as well. There’s there’s not just a desire to sort out this particular problem, but there are questions about how are you going to signal to basically everyone else a combination of your resolve, a combination of your willingness to take costs and a desire to demonstrate that there are rules to the road, especially after the last few decades may have suggested that that was not in fact, the case. And so to me, you know, if I’m if I’m sitting back in the White House and I’m thinking about what does it take for me to remove the sanctions, I’m not just thinking about what that does in terms of Russia. I’m not just thinking about what that does in terms of Putin’s thinking. I’m thinking about President Xi. I’m thinking about what that says to other countries in Eastern Europe who have increasingly pursued more autocratic, you know, government designs. There are a number of different lessons that are being sent here, and I think that this is a moment not solely to get overeager about what sanctions can do, but to at least get very thoughtful about what the tool has done and what signals are being sent both by its application and its removal. Because it’s it’s going to have reverberations, you know, far beyond just this one particular case.

Bordoff [00:24:48]: Yeah, I know that’s that’s a really good point. And I saw the Biden administration sending a delegation to Taiwan, a former security officials and defense officials today, including my friend and coauthor Meghan O’Sullivan. So they are looking for many opportunities to send signals to other parts of the world about what’s happening now. And just one quick follow up on what you. The really interesting comments you both just gave, the rapid escalation. I’m just warning if you could say a word about how you think about sanctions strategy and how quickly one wants to escalate versus how much one wants to leave a little, you know, dry powder to leave room for negotiation, ratchet things up if things don’t change. Well, what’s your reaction to how quickly we’ve kind of gone from two to eight, so to speak, Richard?

Nephew [00:25:35]: Yeah. I mean, my theory of sanctions escalation has always been every day needs to be a bad day. It doesn’t have to be the worst day, but it needs to be a bad day. You what you want in a sanctions campaign is to visualize the leader of the opposition, you know, opening up the newspaper every day, sitting down with it in front of them and saying, Oh my God, that’s happening too. And then the next morning, having the exact same situation emerge, you want that sense that that things are just simply on a downward slide and getting worse. And so from that perspective, I think there’s certainly value in going high. But, you know, I would just remind again, we’ve not gone nearly as high as we could have in the early days, and there’s still a lot more headroom right in terms of escalation. Yes, we have, you know, blocked the ability of the central bank to operate in the United States that use going to follow through. And so that’ll make it very difficult to operate with the dollar and with euros. We’re not actually frozen those reserves, right? That is not. They are now difficult to operate in. They’re difficult to transact in. But we have not actually put the central bank on the SDM list, right? We have simply undermined its ability to engage in normal bank operations. We’ve also only done that in terms of our own national currencies. We haven’t imposed secondary sanctions yet. Meaning that if you’re China, you can still do transactions with the Central Bank of Iran or Central Bank Bank of Russia. And so the upshot is that there are still things even in this one little narrow space. That could be expanded, and the same thing could be said with regard to banking sanctions, more generally, there are a number of banks that haven’t been designated. There are a number of banks that have not had their assets frozen. There are going to be swift sanctions imposed on probably designated banks, but haven’t been imposed on other ones or on Russia more generally. And again, we haven’t yet even touched on, you know, longer term effects on broader economic relationships with Russia like, you know, trade mechanism shipments. You know, the ability to do transportation other than in those very specific cases of European Union denying air access to Aeroflot, right? So there are a number of things that could make those bad days keep happening, and we haven’t yet reached the end of those. And to me, that’s the appropriate escalation path. It’s not necessarily everything at once, and certainly not all your big things at once. It’s every day something new.

Bordoff [00:27:55]: One of the ways we have not yet escalated, as you said any is, you know, we are an energy center. So let’s come to energy, oil and gas major source of revenue for Russia, particularly oil, even more than gas. Although the security issues around gas may be more acute because it’s not as integrated a global market, Europe depends on Russia, mostly pipelines for about 40 percent. Normally not today of its natural gas imports. How do you? Is that the right decision when there’s such a large target there to impose pain on Russia? Is there a way to do that without significant pain that we would be imposing on ourselves? And then let’s talk about what the implications of kind of, you know? I’m also interested in the strategy, meaning it does seem to me like the Biden administration. Others have gone out of their way to really signal oil and gas is off the table. And is that a smart strategy or not? If you’re trying to influence how Putin thinks about what he might do next?

Fishman [00:28:54]: Sure. So look, Russia is hydrocarbon dependent economy. Oil and gas represent about two thirds of Russia’s export revenues and half of its budget revenues. Right. So it’s important to put that out there because I think the simple answer is over the long term, it is impossible to impose the most devastating sanctions on Russia without touching energy. That’s just a fact. Right? This is an energy dependent economy. At the same time, some of the criticism I’ve seen, including from people I respect about the Biden administration’s carve outs for energy I think are honestly quite off base for a few reasons. As I said before, there is both a near-term and a long term game to be played right in the near term. I just don’t see a viable way to dramatically cut off Russia’s oil exports overnight. I don’t think it’s possible. Russia is exporting around five million barrels of oil per day. For comparison’s sake, before we imposed the devastating secondary sanctions on Iran’s oil exports about two and a half million barrels of oil a day. So it’s 2x what Iran was exporting at its height. So it’s a very substantial share of global oil exports, and it’s not like there’s a readily available substitute that would come online overnight if we wanted to cut those off, right? And Jason, and you know, maybe this thing you can comment on eventually. I know you’re the most expert on this, but the three of us. But. So I don’t think it’s possible to impose rapid sanctions on Russia’s oil exports. And frankly, even if you tried to impose some sanctions on Russian oil exports to take Russian oil off of global markets, a certain consequence would be spiking oil prices right. You remove significant supply prices go up because demand, but stay the same. Right. And so in some way, you would could perversely benefit Russia. Right. So for instance, if you were, if you even can succeed in cutting Russia’s oil exports by 20 percent a day, for instance, what if prices went up by 25 percent? Right. And Russia’s actually benefiting from that action, right? They’re not. They’re not suffering from it. So I actually think it makes sense to focus sanctions, especially on the acute crisis on the Russian banking sector. Because, as you see, unlike energy sanctions, banking sanctions can hit really fast. Right? I mean, we went from a Russian economy that looked relatively stable to one that’s looking like a complete basket case, right? I mean, this is looking like the 90s in Russia all over again. All right. We’re going back to the pre Putin casino capitalism wild 90s of Boris Yeltsin within less than a week ago. Right. So that’s that’s how fast financial sanctions can act. That doesn’t mean that oil sanctions need to be off the table forever. I think that the way that we succeeded, frankly, in reducing Iran’s oil exports from that two and a half million barrels of oil a day to ultimately under one million barrels. Of oil per day was through a concerted, multi-year campaign to threaten secondary sanctions, so these are not sanctions directly on Iran, but sanctions on third countries who are buying Iranian oil. We use that threat coupled with kind of a global diplomatic effort. And frankly, this is actually how Richard and I met when Richard was coordinating these sanctions at the State Department. The first job that I had at the State Department after I left Treasury was to come over and work on pushing, frankly, Asian countries to stop buying Iranian oil, to stop transacting with the Iranian petroleum sector more broadly. Right. And so that effort takes time. I think it could be applied to Russia. It would probably take longer than two or three years it took for us to crater Iran’s oil sales. But it’s certainly valuable, but it’s just not something that would work overnight. So I think that oil sanctions should be part of a comprehensive long term strategy toward Russia, something that I personally am advocating for. I think Congress probably would need to get involved to make it happen. And we could talk more about that later. But I think it’s viable, but it isn’t something that necessarily makes sense in the context of the current acute phase of this Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Bordoff [00:33:21]: Love your thoughts there, Richard. I think that’s where we met as well, and we were working on that at the National Security Council. And part of that wasn’t just the heavy diplomatic effort because you wanted to impose pain without imposing it on yourself. It was also phased. It was the idea was to give the oil market time to adjust, and that’s why countries could get waivers exceptions to the sanctions if they showed significant reductions every, I think, six months. So is that a strategy that would make sense here? Or what do you think of the current approach, which largely has kind of said, you know, we’re going to stay away from oil and gas because we just we just need it. We need the energy.

Nephew [00:33:58]: So look, I think there’s a couple of things. I mean, first of all, I’ve long thought that there is a possibility of using the same play with respect to oil reductions in the case of Russia. In fact, it’s one of the first papers that I wrote when I came to the center back in 2015 was talking about how one could do a reduction strategy. The theory I put forward there and then I still think makes some sense, is that you’d have to go a little bit slower and you’d have to go a little bit smaller. Your ambitions would be less than you had in the Iran case, where we again went from 2.4 to under a million in six months. That that that was a lot and that was a lot, you know, when we were dealing with oil prices in the in the hundreds. Right. And I think this crisis is absolutely, you know, taking place in a similar time with potentially much more dire consequences in terms of market passthrough. But I think you know two things. One, I think right now I actually see the oil and the gas weapon as being one that Putin has against the West and against the cohesion of the sanctions campaign. And I see it one that can be used against Putin. I think that if he were to tomorrow decide he was going to turn off the taps, we would see a lot of people in Europe start to scream. Now, I don’t think that that necessarily means that they back away from the sanctions campaign altogether. But it would certainly change the equations a little bit. And I think that’s one reason why there’s been such a careful effort to signal that we’re not going there is to ensure that there is interest alignment that you know, it is still in the Russian interest to have the taps on because they’re still able to take advantage of the sales. It’s still in the interest of the Europeans in particular, but the market in general, to have the taps flowing to there’s a time in which that may not be the case, but right now that is in the interest. And then I think the second thing is, if you were to do it, the only way it makes sense is if you were to simultaneously have the kinds of restrictions on the revenues that we had starting in 2013. You know, back in 2011, we imposed the initial sanctions restricting Iranian oil exports. We allowed them to repatriate the earnings and it was a little bit different given the structure of how Iran does that. After a year and a half, we went for the restrictions on access to the financing, and so we both reduced the amount and then locked away the funds. If you’re not doing that in the case of Russia, frankly, you’re not doing anything. If you just make the reduction for all the reasons that he points out in terms of the price dynamics that are there. But again, to do that, you’re running the risk that Putin says, forget it just turns them altogether off. So to me, I don’t think it’s wise to take it off the table. I think it has to be on the table. I think that the Russians need to perceive that it’s a risk that we’re prepared to run. I think it’s part of the reason why these efforts to build up stockpiles and to find alternative sources of supply that have been going on for the last three months has been so vital to suggest to Russia that this is a place we’re prepared to go. But it also serves to underscore both. We are prepared to go there. It’s an option, but we’re also choosing not to avoid. Giving him the incentives to escalate that rapidly. And the last thing I would just say there, too, it’s worth also remembering that in the case of Iran, when we were doing this, we’re doing this to Iran that doesn’t have substantial military power. We’re doing this to Iran. That at the time was, you know, still pretty hemmed in even within its region, let alone globally importantly, didn’t have a bunch of ICBMs with nuclear warheads on the tips. And it’s worth remembering that over the weekend, Russia changed its strategic posture vis-a-vis its nuclear arsenal, allegedly because of, you know, concerns that there was a possible conflict. But at least in one quote I saw directly because of central bank related sanctions. And I don’t think that we should set aside from Russian strategic calculations that they look at their economy, see it as a national strategic interest and say this is worth going to war over, including nuclear war over. I don’t think it’s a near-term thing, but I do think that, you know, when you’re dealing with a country like Russia, you have to have a little bit of understanding that that it’s not a plaything. You have to be a little bit more careful about how you do this because you really don’t know what kinds of reactions and over actions you might get to the government.

Bordoff [00:38:12]: Yeah, super important points. Kind of scary and worrisome points you’re bringing up. And I was wondering in the last few days the same thing when you think about Europe’s dependance on Russia for gas, the world’s dependance on Russia for oil. That may be a weapon we have, but it is also one that he has. And when you know, I think many people, including myself, kind of looked at history and said, Well, Russia has never really tried to use oil that way or embargo its exports. Even with natural gas, it has continued to let gas flow other than particular conflicts. 2006 2009 in Ukraine. But when things escalate so quickly, when you’re cornered in in the way that you’re describing may be the case in the weeks and months to come. What do you do and maybe kind of all bets are off when you try to think about the things that would cause maximum damage in retaliation short of, you know, actual kinetic military activity. I’m curious any how you think about that and if you have any thoughts about how Russia might be thinking about its energy exports right now is how big a risk you see that about whether they would retaliate in that way.

Fishman [00:39:25]: Look, I think it’s important. You know, Richard’s book, which I think is excellent, is called The Art of Sanctions. I think it’s important to go back to center the art of war. And you never you always want to give your adversary a way out. You never want your adversary to feel completely cornered and that there’s noway out of the situation that they’re in. So I think that that’s extremely important. And that’s why, you know, I did say earlier that I think it’s incumbent upon the West to state very clearly publicly what the conditions are for lifting these most draconian sanctions. The ones against, for instance, the central bank of Russia doesn’t have to be all sanctions, right? Certainly, when we struck a nuclear deal with Iran, we did not lift all sanctions, much to the chagrin of the Iranian government, but certainly the central Bank of Russia sanctions should be tied to a measurable near-term diplomatic outcome. And I think it’s really incumbent upon the West, by the way, in coordination with the Zelensky government, the Ukrainian government to state what those what those conditions are right. The second thing I’d say is in terms of retaliation. You know, I’ve seen a lot of folks talking about this on Twitter and other places. It’s definitely something that is is really important and it’s a serious threat. As Richard said, you know, Putin did tie, you know, putting his nuclear forces on high alert to sanctions specifically. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s worthwhile for us to be intimidated by Russian threats. Right. The fact of the matter is, you know, people talk about a nuclear option when it comes to sanctions. As much as I, you know, I’m a sanctions practitioner, a sanctions aficionado. There is no nuclear option when it comes to sanctions. Sanctions are not military force. Even the harshest sanctions against Russia are not commensurate with the types of military hardware that are being brought to bear on the Ukrainian people right now. So I think it’s important for us to separate bluster and bluff from reality in terms of what Russia could do to retaliate and what is actually likely. Obviously, your thought initially goes to sanctions themselves, like counter sanctions in 2014, when we imposed sanctions on Russia. Russia did retaliate by banning agricultural imports to Russia. This was what I would say is a very meager sanction. It didn’t have a particularly significant impact on the West. It did impact certain markets and certain, you know, industries, primarily in Eastern Europe. So, you know, says for a little anecdote, I used to travel pretty much to Europe every other week with who was at the time. You know, Richard, my colleague and boss Dan Freed. And one of the things we would do is we would go to, you know, four days in Europe and different capital each day. And you know, you would go to Western Europe and the government would complain about the impact of sanctions on their economy. But it just wasn’t borne out by the data, right? Like the sanctions and even Russians, counter sanctions weren’t affecting Western Europe in any significant way. Then you go to Vilnius and Lithuania and you’d meet with someone in the dairy sector who said, you know, our revenues have collapsed by 60 percent. And this was true, right? I mean, the agricultural sector of places like Lithuania, Latvia, Poland took a major hit from Russia’s counter sanctions. They have significant trade relationships with Russia. And then you talk to the government and they say, sanction Russia harder. So actually, the countries who are most impacted by the counter sanctions as well as blowback, were also the ones who were advocating for the most aggressive measures on Russia. So I think that’s an important thing to level set. I don’t foresee that Russia’s counter sanctions will be particularly impactful, but I’m more concerned about is asymmetric retaliation. I’m not a cyber security expert, but people who I do respect, including Dmitri Alperovitch, has, you know, been raising this as a concern for weeks now about the potential for a fairly substantial Russian retaliation in the cyber domain. Maybe Russia could launch some sort of cyber attacks against the U.S. financial system as sort of, you know, an asymmetric but kind of symmetric retaliation? Let’s see. Right. I think that this is a domain also where the U.S. has very substantial capabilities ourselves, and I don’t think Russia wants to escalate with us in that realm, either. So that’s what I’ll primarily be watching for in terms of the nuclear threat. Of course, you need to take any nuclear threat seriously, but I don’t think that. And I don’t think nor do I expect the Biden administration will back down because Putin is blustering with nuclear weapons.

Bordoff [00:44:12]: Richard, one word answer. And then I have another question. But do you view that risk of Russia cutting off energy supplies as low, medium or high now based on the pressure that they’re under.

Nephew [00:44:24]: Medium and probably going to high, especially as the campaign in Ukraine bogs down? And I think that’s going beyond your one word. But the one thing I will say that it’s worth noting is we might be having a different discussion if this lightning fast raid to take over Ukraine had succeeded, you know, because it would be a different circumstance facing the Russians, they at least would have had a success there. We might be having a different conversation if the sanctions weren’t terribly significant, but it’s worth noting we’ve got both an apparently bogged down military campaign combined with pretty oppressive sanctions being put in place. These are the kinds of things that lead to a certain sense of failure. And so the question is what are the Russians going to do if they think they’re failing? And unfortunately, what they often will do is to flail. And there’s a number of different ways in which they can they can lash out. And I think that’s where energy will come in.

Bordoff [00:45:14]: There’s also been questions, I think, from folks, you know, I talked to in the energy sector, even if oil and gas is off the table, to what extent of the financial sanctions impact oil and gas sales? You know, when can you conduct those transactions without being part of Swift and everything else? So Eddie, can you just talk about that a little bit help people understand that?

Fishman [00:45:33]: Sure. This, to me, has been another one of the red herrings in the public discourse about how, you know, sanctions are going to unintentionally ensnare Russian energy sales because you won’t be able to pay for them. Look, I think if if Russia’s oil exports were the result of thousands of individual small oil exporters, that might be the case, right? Because you never you wouldn’t really. These wouldn’t be there’d be, you know, thousands and thousands of transactions a day. That’s not what Russia’s oil exports look like, right? There’s a state owned oil giant called Rosneft that is producing the vast majority of Russian oil. They’re on a small list of consumers who are buying huge quantities of Russian oil. So and they’re very explicit carve outs for energy sales for oil and gas sales in the sanctions that not only exist in sort of the letter of the orders that have come out, but are also, you know, clear policy guidance coming from President Biden in his remarks. So to me, I’m not worried about oil and gas flows being stopped unintentionally by sanctions. I don’t think that that’s a realistic fear, given how explicit the West has been. Certainly, if the United States came out and said, you know, GLA no longer stands and sorry to use jargon, GLA is the general license that exempts these oil and gas sales and. Biden said, look, you know, I we came out saying that we weren’t going to affect oil and gas sales, but now we are. Then of course, you know, I, you know, you would see complications paying for oil and gas the way you wouldn’t see a complete stop to purchases of oil and gas. Countries need Russian oil and gas, and they’ll find a way to pay for it, even if it means, you know, putting a bunch of gold or cash and sending it to Russia, which we actually saw happen in the Iran context. I’m sure Russia Richard has much better stories than I do on that front. But yeah, I’d say this is not a huge concern that I have.

Bordoff [00:47:40]: So in our remaining time, I wanted to make sure to come to the thing. Richard, you’ve spent the last year working on and hear your thoughts and perspectives about it. As Eddie just said, consumers and consuming countries need Russian oil because markets are tight now. Prices are about $100 a barrel, and that is with an expectation that more Iranian oil will be coming to the market because an Iran deal is in the offing, and the Europeans and the U.S. are eager to put the Iran deal back together. But the JCPOA? So you worked on that team for a year. And I wonder if you could share with all of us and our listeners where we are right now in the Iran negotiations is a deal likely? And if it is what you think of what the terms of that deal might be?

Nephew [00:48:30]: Yeah, I’m happy to. I mean, it’s a couple of things. I mean one in terms of kind of where we are right now, this moment. The Iranian lead negotiator, according to press reports, you know, left Vienna and went back to Tehran for for internal consultations at the end of last week. And it seems pretty apparent it’s because we’re now down to some key political decisions, right? Somelast things. It’s not no longer a question of whether or not there are specific negotiating pieces that can be done or tricky, you know, ways of running, writing language that potentially can solve some of the problems, but there are actual decisions that need to be made. Will the Iranians accept a deal that has X, Y and Z, but not A B and C? Well, the United States, you know, be prepared to offer X, Y and Z, even if it holds back on A, B and C, and those sorts of kind of big political decisions at some level go beyond the negotiators, the negotiators in a position to present them to bosses. But bosses need to make those kinds of key political decisions. And according to what negotiators are saying today, at least European ones, they are signaling pretty clearly that political decisions need to be made in Tehran before the end of the week or the talks are going to break down. My own expectation at this point, I think there is still a good reason to suspect that there will be a deal. I think that if you look at the kind of core interests that the Iranians have in a JCPOA, especially given access to the sanctions relief that’s there, those will be, you know, key elements of any kind of deal. And I think that the Iranians have made pretty clear that they would like to have that kind of sanctions relief. The real issue is they haven’t said that it’s essential trade and there has been a sea change in how the Iranian government thinks about it from two thousand and fifteen when the Rouhani administration banked on international access and investment to restore the Iranian economy. That’s not where President Rice is right now. And instead, he’s very much said, we don’t need it. We can handle things on our own. So I think there is a baseline assumption that there’s going to be a deal and that the talks will not break down this week. But I don’t think we should be automatic about it. And that’s in part because the kinds of things that they’re not getting, at least it doesn’t appear that they’re going to get are ones that have been made highly important by the Iranian leadership, and that includes guarantees that the United States will never leave. The JCPOA again guarantees that if it does, the sanctions relief will keep flowing and potentially the size of sanctions relief where there were demands being made by the Iranians that went beyond what the terms of the JCPOA would otherwise have provided. And I think the question really now is, is the United States going to blink and offer some of those things that are pretty difficult politically and be very difficult to sell politically back home? Or the Iranians are going to say good enough and take the kind of deal that otherwise is on offer. We’ll find out this week, I think.

Bordoff [00:51:30]: And if that comes to pass what you described, I could imagine criticism from various corners of Washington, D.C. that we have a deal that has a shorter breakout time than initial one did and maybe some additional concessions to Iran in the process. Is that criticism fair?

Nephew [00:51:50]: Yeah. I mean, there’s a reason why I’m joining you and Eddie here on this podcast and not presently in Vienna. I, from a personal perspective, my own view is that there was a deal that was available with the Iranians that would have been in our interest and that the deal that we were vectoring towards would not have been in our interest. That doesn’t mean in the end, again, we all have to take a look at what final outcome comes out of the negotiations, but we have to see what that will look like. But my own opinion was that there was there was a different thing that we could have done during the negotiations that potentially would have achieved a deal that would have been more in keeping with with what we have is our interests with respect to Iran, especially in the long term. I think the the the criticism that will come from Washington will include some of that, you know, people who as a good faith matter believe that it’s important to have negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue to have a diplomatic resolution on the nuclear issue. But I don’t think that the deal that that’s likely to emerge is it and that it solves for the problems that we have. Then there’s going to be some folks who are going to oppose it because they’ve just frankly do not agree with the concept of a deal, and they don’t agree with the concept of a deal with Iran that provides substantial sanctions relief, especially for this particular government. And I think we’re going to have some, some measure of both. The real question and it’s something that we can’t really, you know, say here is how far the concessions that have been made to Iran to get it to a deal will cut into things that people consider to be unacceptable. If it’s pretty far, then I think you’re likely to see pretty hostile bipartisan reaction in Congress and among the chattering classes in Washington. If negotiators were able to hold the line some key pieces, then I think it’ll be much more of just a matter of personal preference as to whether or not the deal that comes out is acceptable or not. I think either way, the political problems that are going to be created are going to be pretty significant for the administration. Their best and colorful argument is going to be a good deal with Iran is one that addresses the core issues presented by the Trump administration’s withdrawal. We had to take some hits in getting back to that deal as a result of that withdrawal, which weren’t unattractive, but it is what it is. And, you know, we still reserve the right to negotiate with them on other things in the future. I think that’s going to be the argument they’re going to make, and I think they’re going to be many who are going to say, we’re not happy with where we are, but it’s better than having another conflict, especially in the context of what’s going on in Ukraine. And I think we’ll just have to see whether or not that’s a persuasive enough argument.

Bordoff [00:54:26]: Yeah, I mean, that seems like the response I would imagine from, say, the Biden administration, which will point to Trump’s pulling out of the deal and call it one of the more significant foreign policy mistakes of the last several decades. And then given where we are today, and maybe it was possible to put a different deal together right at the start of the administration. But given where we are today, the alternatives to what you’re describing as the contours of this deal are potentially even worse. I mean, there is there may be no good option at this point. I’m curious, Ed, if you have any thoughts on on all of this and or a question for Richard on on on on the Iran deal too.

Fishman [00:55:03]: I’d love to ask a question. You know, and this is sort of almost in the realm of the theoretical because, you know, one reason why I actually was happy when I got a switch from the Iran sanctions world to the Russia sanctions world in 2014 was, I always felt like our Iran strategy,our Iran policy, is so constrained by politics in a way that it’s just not the case with a lot of other foreign policies that the United States crafts. Richard, I’m curious your thoughts if we didn’t have those constraints and we actually could trade some of the primary sanctions and really, really had the full range of U.S. sanctions and the U.S. embargo on the table to trade to the Iranians? What kind of a deal do you think we could get?

Nephew [00:55:52]: Yeah, I’m actually a pretty optimistic guy when it comes to that. I think that the Iranians will say often that they don’t want to do business with the United States, and that may be the case. You know, that they don’t want to have, you know, people coming in from Kansas and hanging out in Tehran anymore. And they don’t like the idea of U.S., you know, business activity inside of Iran. But you know what they do like is access to US financial systems. And they, more importantly, anything like European banks having access to those systems because it makes it much more likely they’ll do transactions with the Iranians. So I think there’s a lot of the primary embargo that the Iranians would like to see, you know, come off. I think that there are a lot of reasons why access to the US economy, even if it’s not in any kind of direct fashion, would be in Iran’s interest. I also think that is something that has at one time was stigmatized and I think pretty controversial in the United States, but maybe less so now. You know, Bob Menendez, the senator from New Jersey and chairman of this FRC, gave a floor speech maybe a month or so ago in which he was quite critical of the idea of returning to the JCPOA, but in describing a possible future deal. He said potentially even aspects of the primary embargo could be on the table, and this is somebody who in the past you wouldn’t have expected to say such a thing, but it’s in part because I think there is a recognition that to get a really good deal, you may have to give up parts of that primary embargo and that at the end of the day, that’s what it’s there for. You know, the primary embargo is not intended to be in place forever and ever and ever with respect to Iran. At least it was not intended to, and I think most analysts argue it shouldn’t be. I think that the idea, the question at the heart of all this is, is there a good trade for it? Is there something that the Iranians could give us that would be sufficient that we’d be prepared to forego the benefits that we have from a strategic sense of possessing the embargo? To my mind, I was absolutely prepared and remain prepared today to put on the table aspects of the primary embargo, especially if that allows us to get the kind of deal that would resolve some of these concerns. We’ve gotten a much more sustainable way. So I think it’s both possible and maybe even probable if we get no negotiation at some point that goes beyond the strictures of the JCPOA.

Bordoff [00:58:05]: And just coming back to the specific questions that energy focused listeners will be interested in. If if that deal does come together, Richard, how much oil and how quickly does it come to the market?

Nephew [00:58:19]: Well, that’s what’s interesting about all of this, right, is that the the the sanctions posture over the course of the last year or so has actually led to a fairly large amount of Iranian oil making it to market already, at least according to public sources. You know, somewhere in the neighborhood of one million barrels per day, but potentially even north of that with some regularity. You know, the Iranians in their best export years over the course of the last, you know, 20 years have only been able to put about two point four million barrels per day on the market. So that gives us a sense of we’re only looking at maybe over what’s there now one point four million barrels per day, you know, coming back on. Now, I suspect that if a deal were to be reached just like we saw in 2015, there would be an immediate surge of Iranian oil because there’s a fair amount of it on the water right now is, as you know, waterborne inventories. So what you probably will see is a massive flow of Iranian oil in a market that will be in excess of that 2.4. But then over time, that will dip back down and we’ll get back in that 2.4 million barrels per day sort of range to between two and 2.4.

Bordoff [00:59:24]: And I guess the flip side of what you said, the fact that a million a day is roughly going into the market even without a deal. If this all falls apart, the consequence of that might then need to be enforcing sanctions more than has been the case in the past, which would actually be bullish and pulling some oil off the market.

Nephew [00:59:41]: Yeah, that’s right. I think, you know, there’s no scenario that I can contemplate where you’re down to zero just because smuggling activity and illicit buyers are always going to be a thing. But you could probably drive that with much more regularity and much more tougher enforcement. And certainly, if you had cooperation into the 500000 barrels per day or south of that, maybe for, you know, for for some length of time. And so, yeah, you’re potentially looking at a no deal scenario in which you lose oil, you don’t lose two point four, right? You don’t lose even a million. But but you are going to lose some just as you’re not going to gain as much if a deal comes in place because of where the exports already are.

Bordoff [01:00:17]: And if the Biden administration reaches a deal, even one that is criticized or viewed by some in D.C. as weak, does it happen nonetheless? Or do you see ways in which Congress could actually prevent it from moving forward if it is displeased with it?

Nephew [01:00:33]: Yeah. I mean, so this is an open question right now for for two reasons. One, there is an open question of whether or not the agreement is going to be submitted to Congress under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA. There is a legal reading of the JCPOA in an IRA that says if the JCPOA is functionally the same agreement that it was in 2015 when it was reviewed under an hour and survived that you don’t actually have to submit it again to Congress. And if that’s the case, then you wouldn’t have a formal mechanism to review it and to potentially reject it. But that’s a possibility. They could say that the agreement has changed sufficiently, that we think we have to submit it or come under political pressure to do so. So that’s one avenue through which it could be challenged or undermined or even just flat out defeated. It seems pretty unlikely. You would need to have a large number of Democratic senators, you know, secede from the from the president’s policy. You know, if you’re looking at having to have over a third or so of the caucus, you know, withdraw from the president’s policy. That’s a pretty big political defeat and it seems fairly unlikely, especially in an election year. On the other hand, Iran’s unpopular, it’s election year, so we’ll have to see what that would potentially look like on the the second path, even if you didn’t have a formal in our rejection or formal in our review even. There are things that could be done that could undermine implementation of the JCPOA. If you were to just have a resolution that forbids the State Department, Energy Department and Treasury Department from using funding to implement the JCPOA, that would do a lot. You know, that’s a simple way of doing it. You could also have mandatory sanctions be put in place by the Congress that would violate terms of the deal. Now again, that all seems pretty unlikely in the context of the current political climate in Washington in the current configuration of Congress. But we do have midterms coming up in a couple of months, so one can easily imagine my view next. This time next year, a Republican dominated Congress deciding to push legislation on to the administration that would undermine implementation of the JCPOA. And then you’re back to the question of is it enough and are there enough votes to block a presidential override? I don’t know. You know, that’s going to depend on what Congress looks like at the time. But are there enough votes to make it a constant agony for the administration? Without, without a doubt. And the last thing I’ll just say on this is you don’t even need to have congressional action and legal change to have an impact on JCPOA implementation. If the sum total of all this is undermining investor and corporate business interests in Iran, right, if you have enough people who aren’t willing to do business there, you’re going to undermine implementation of the JCPOA as fast as we did legally, because that just means that banks won’t do the business, companies won’t do the business and the Iranians will say, What are we getting back into this agreement for if we’re not going to be able to do the things we were promised able to do?

Bordoff [01:03:29]: Eddie, I’ve focused on this part of the Iran conversation on Richard, given his experience in the last year. But as we wrap up any final observation or reaction on the Iran outlook you want to make before we conclude?

Fishman [01:03:43]: no, other than to say that, you know, it’s it’s a pity, I think that we don’t have the ability to sort of trade to play our full hand against Iran. And personally, as somebody who, you know, views myself first and foremost, as you know, a public servant, foreign policy practitioner, not a Partisan person in any major way, it’s just a pity that, you know, politics constrains us in the way it does vis a vis Iran, because I do think that the as Richard said, some of the fundamental issues probably are addressable. If we were able to  sort of use the full range of tools at our disposal. But you know. Unfortunately, that’s not where we are right now.

Bordoff [01:04:25]: Annie Fishman and Richard Nephew, thanks to both of you for making time to be with us very generously. I know how much in demand you are given what’s happening in the world. So an hour was not enough time and given how rapidly things are changing and with both Russia and Iran, I’m sure if we could spend another hour tomorrow and the next day, the next day and have completely different things to talk about. But this was a really timely and really interesting conversation. Thanks for being with us. Thanks for being part of the Center on Global Energy Policy. And Richard, thanks again for your service in government over the course of the last year. I look forward to continuing the conversation in the weeks and months to come. Sounds good. Thanks for having us.

Thank you, Richard. Thanks, Eddie, and thanks to all of you, our listeners, for joining us on this episode of Columbia Energy Exchange. The show was brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. The show is hosted by Bill Loveless and by me, Jason Bordoff. The show was produced by Steven Lacy, Jamie Kaiser and Alexandria her from PostScript Media. Additional support from Tori Lavelle, Kirsten Smith, Daniel Propp, Natalie Volk and Kyu Lee. Sean Marquand, engineer of the show. For more information about the podcast or the Center on Global Energy Policy, please visit us online at Or follow us on social media at Columbia U Energy. And please, if you feel inclined, leave a review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps us out. Thanks again. We’ll see you next week.


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