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Shortly after taking office, US President Obama gave negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme one year to produce results, promising to push for a new set of United Nations sanctions if there was no progress. The E3+3 countries, France, Germany and the United Kingdom plus China, Russia and the United States reached agreement on a fourth round of sanctions in June 2010 This note looks at Iran’s nuclear programme, the effects of UN, US and EU sanctions and possible alternative approaches to the problem.

• President Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran was widely perceived to have achieved little directly.

• After the deadline for engagement expired, however, the administration’s engagement policy may have been a factor in helping to gain support for the Security Council resolution of June 2010, which imposed tough sanctions on Iran.

• The UN sanctions were much broader than any previous measures, and both the EU and especially the US went further than the requirements of the UN. Both imposed further restrictions in 2011.

• The sanctions are having a noticeable effect on the Iranian economy but are not thought to be enough on their own to bring the Iranian government to abandon uranium enrichment.

• There are alternatives to sanctions, including military action, but none of these is without severe drawbacks.

• There have been many calls for a change of policy and some have suggested that Iran should be allowed to continue enriching uranium. It is difficult to see how a US administration could make this policy change without it being seen domestically and internationally as a climb-down.

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