While several countries rejoice at the demise of the US President Donald Trump’s era and the chaos that accompanied it and the excessive use of sanctions in foreign relations, informed sources revealed to Reuters about the features of US President-elect Joe Biden’s strategy to employ the sanctions weapon.
Informed sources said that US President-elect Joe Biden will not hesitate to use sanctions as part of his efforts to reshape US foreign policy.
However, these sources clarified that when Biden takes office on January 20, he is expected to rush to start re-evaluating Trump’s approach to the use of brute force, and at the same time to slow down to think before making any major changes regarding the major countries targeted for sanctions. Like Iran and China.
His challenge will be to determine which penalties are worth preserving, which are worth dispensing with and which ones will be expanded.
Biden is set to take office in January, after 4 years in which Trump imposed economic sanctions at an unprecedented pace, but he failed nonetheless to bend the US opponents to his will.
Following Biden’s inauguration, the revised strategy will be formulated, taking advantage of a broad review of sanctions programs, the sources said.
However, even before this assessment is completed, Biden is expected to make clear that sanctions will remain a pivotal tool for the United States, but will not be used under the “America First” slogan that was guiding foreign policy in the Trump administration.
Two sources said that one of the first possibilities is to lift the sanctions imposed by Trump last September on officials of the International Criminal Court over the investigation into whether the US military has committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
The European allies condemned those sanctions.
Adding to the challenges Biden faces is that Trump has maintained the pace of sanctions in the final days of his administration, of which chaos was a hallmark.
Since he took office, Trump has used sanctions as a preferred response to international problems, from Iran’s military activities to the North Korean nuclear arsenal, and the political crisis in Venezuela.
The Trump administration has passed about 3,800 new sanctions decisions, compared to 2,350 in President Barack Obama’s second term.
Also, the Trump administration was a pioneer in imposing decisions banning entry visas to the United States, and the impact of this on more than two hundred foreign officials who were subjected to a ban on entering the United States.
His administration has also severely ramped up the use of so-called secondary punishments, with which it punished friends and foes alike.
Slow down and coordination
Although Biden is expected to continue to use these coercive measures, the sources said that changes will take place, including slowing down the decision-making process and closer coordination with allies.
“Sanctions are not a magic weapon. They need to be used within a broader strategy framework, and this is what the Trump administration has often lacked,” said Hajjar Hajjar al-Shamali, who was one of the officials in charge of sanctions during the Obama era.
Trump administration officials insist that the show of American economic power has badly damaged some of America’s adversaries, which could give Biden a leverage.
Men around Biden
Some critics have questioned the usefulness of Trump’s expansion in imposing sanctions on individuals, blacklisting foreign officials by freezing assets and preventing Americans from doing business with them.
It is possible that such steps are effective when the targets are wealthy or have investments in the United States, but they are often symbolic if not otherwise.
Biden aides are concerned that the apparent overuse of sanctions could backfire, especially if he spurs other countries to develop mechanisms to circumvent the financial networks dominated by the United States.
However, Biden’s choice of Anthony Blinken as his secretary of state, and Jake Sullivan as his National Security Adviser, indicates that there will not be a great deal of leniency despite the trend to use sanctions in a multilateral setting.
Aduel Ademu, who will be the second in the Treasury, has pledged to focus heavily on national security, including “using our sanction system to hold the bad guys accountable.”
Several sources said he would lead the sanctions assessment process under the Biden administration.
The Iranian predicament
Biden had said he would return to the nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from in 2018 if Iran resumed its commitment.
Although it will be difficult for Biden to offer Iran significant sanctions relief soon, a source close to his team said he could open the door to reconnecting by easing restrictions that hindered Tehran’s access to goods intended for humanitarian purposes in the midst of the Corona pandemic.
The sanctions, as part of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, have reduced its oil revenues and hindered its foreign trade.
Most of the countries and companies have distanced themselves from Iran due to fear that they themselves will be subjected to sanctions for doing business with Tehran.
“There is a flurry of measures that the current administration is trying, on its way to leave, to cause more economic pain, setback for the Iranian nuclear program, and complicate Biden’s career,” said Robert Malley, who was an advisor on Iran affairs under Obama.
However, Trump administration officials are responding by saying that they are doing well to Biden by imposing more economic pressure on Iran so that it has no choice but to return to negotiations.
Biden will also face the issue of sanctions against China, the world’s second largest economy.
Although Trump accused Biden during the election campaign of lowering his head in front of Beijing, the president-elect said he would take a more aggressive approach, especially with regard to human rights.
The source close to Biden’s transition team said this would likely mean further sanctions because of Hong Kong and Xinjiang and possibly Tibet as well.
However, an adviser to Biden indicated that the threat of sanctions could also be used to pressure China to settle trade disputes.
North Korea’s “bullying”
Among the challenges Biden faces in dealing with North Korea is getting rid of the confusion that has plagued Trump’s policy, and supporting the implementation of sanctions aimed at forcing it to give up its nuclear weapons.
Experts say that the friendly relationship between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has weakened the pressure of international sanctions, although Pyongyang is still in a difficult economic situation due to restrictions that prevent it from benefiting from the global financial and trade system.
Biden has called Kim a “thug,” and his aides are predicting a more hawkish approach.
Russia … the thorny relationship
Biden also mentioned the possibility of imposing sanctions on Russia for interference in the US elections.
This trend may be motivated by the hacking of computers in federal agencies in a piracy operation in which Russia has been accused.
Two sources said Biden may also move on an issue that Trump has been reluctant to address, intelligence estimates that Russia has offered rewards to militants for killing American and Allied soldiers in Afghanistan.
An official familiar with the matter said Biden could also impose sanctions similar to those imposed by Britain and the European Union on Russia for poisoning Alexei Navalny, a Kremlin opponent. Moscow had denied any role in poisoning him.