By Mehdi Ansari Jovini
The second round of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector -- the country's main source of income -- came into force this week, which could have the effect of reducing Iran's crude oil exports.
Some observers fear the move could lead to rising living costs and push a significant portion of the population below the poverty line.
Iranian filmmakers and celebrities have responded to the sanctions by launching a social-media campaign with the Twitter hashtag #SanctionsTargetMe.
They say their goal is to let the world know that the main targets of the U.S. sanctions are everyday Iranians rather than the government.
Hossein Mousavian, Iran's former nuclear negotiator, believes the impact of the second round of sanctions will be worse than the first.
He says Washington’s ultimate goal is to increase pressure on Tehran with a view to changing the Islamic republic’s current regime.
Mousavian believes the first round of sanctions -- imposed some three months ago -- affected the country’s foreign trade and undermined its economy.
The second round, which officially came into force on Monday, primarily targets Iran’s oil and gas exports and international financial transactions.
According to Mousavian, the impact of the second round of sanctions on foreign trade and the national economy will be worse, since Iran's budget is heavily dependent on energy exports, which account for almost 60 percent of the country’s total foreign trade.
Mousavian also believes, however, that the first round of sanctions served to unite Iran’s disparate political factions against U.S. policy in the region, while the second round could provide Iran with an opportunity to reduce its traditional dependence on oil and gas.
"There is no doubt that Washington’s ultimate goal is regime change," he said. "But that’s been their goal for the last four decades and it’s always ended in failure.”
On Monday, the U.S. exempted eight Iranian oil purchasers from the sanctions, pointing out that -- after its withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May -- Iran's daily oil exports had fallen by one million barrels.
These purchasers will be allowed to buy limited oil from Iran for another six months, after which the U.S. -- which hopes to eventually bring Iran's oil exports to zero -- will decide whether or not to extend the exemption.
Previously, these eight purchasers -- China, India, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, Greece and Italy -- had accounted for some 75 percent of Iran's total energy exports.
Purchasers during the last round of sanctions had been expected to reduce their purchases by 20 percent every six months, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently said they would have to "cut more".
Morteza Safari Natanzi, chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament), stated: “Although the U.S. has made great efforts to boycott Iran, it won’t achieve anything.”
Iran's economy is oil-based, and, as a result, developments in the oil and gas sector will have the most significant effects on Iran's economy.
On the other hand, the Iranian oil sector has the highest degree of cohesion and solidarity with the outside world, and therefore the sanctions could have a serious impact on Iran's main source of income.
Of course, there are major differences with the previous sanctions. The earlier sanctions were imposed by consensus and within the context of an amicable agreement between the U.S., the EU and the UN Security Council.
But this time, sanctions against the Iranian economy are specific to the U.S. government.