Addressing an event at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Bolton conceded that sanctions imposed against the Iranians had caused them to come to the negotiating table – “in order to get relief from the sanctions. Well no kidding, what else would you expect?”
“But they have not caused Iran to make anything other than trivial and easily-reversible concessions on the nuclear program,” he said.
“There’s simply no evidence that the sanctions have slowed down the nuclear weapons program,” Bolton said, noting that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has testified to that effect before Congress.
The administration attributes Iran’s economic woes to the effectiveness of sanctions, but Bolton said while sanctions had caused pain, the main reasons for the economic difficulties were falling oil prices and the regime’s economic policies – “the lesson of which is don’t let religious fanatics control your economy.”
“The pain that has been caused by the sanctions in Iran is not something that moves the ayatollahs, you know. They’re not consumer society kinds of guys; it doesn’t bother them that their people can’t buy iPhone 6s, and that’s not likely to change.”
The event at the AEI, where Bolton is a senior fellow, examined possible lessons for the Iran talks from earlier U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at shutting down North Korea’s developing nuclear program.
Those efforts failed dismally: Twelve years after the Clinton administration concluded the 1994 “Agreed Framework” with Pyongyang, the Kim Jong-il regime carried out its first nuclear test.
The North Koreans have since held two more tests and – Bolton pointed out – South Korean and U.S. military commanders “predict that due to progress in the ballistic missile program “in fairly short order they’ll be able to mate a nuclear device with a ballistic missile that could hit the West Coast of the United States.”
Bolton questioned the belief, cited by many critics of the negotiations with Iran,that ratcheting up U.S. economic sanctions can solve the problem.
He said unilateral U.S. sanctions do not work, pointing to the experience of sanctions against North Korea (which were unilaterally imposed by the U.S. until 2006, when the U.N. Security Council responded to North Korea’s breach of its own moratorium on missile launches and to its first nuclear test.)
Also taking part in the event, AEI scholar Michael Rubin said that, unlike the military which examines past exercises in order to learn and improve, the State Department has not carried out a “comprehensive lessons-learned” analysis of its decades of diplomacy with rogue regimes.
Event moderator Nicholas Eberstadt suggested that although the North Koreans did not have the opportunity to learn from U.S. negotiations with Iran (since they came later), Iran has had the opportunity to learn from the North Korean negotiations.
“The lesson Iran really has learned from North Korea,” Bolton said, “is get your nuclear weapon clandestinely, and then announce it after you’ve got it. That’s the way to do it and I think that’s one of the biggest problems with this agreement [with Iran].”