The United States has pursued a number of punitive economic sanctions – through executive orders, acts of Congress, and multilateral U.N. Security Council resolutions – to isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran for its refusal to comply with international inspectors regarding its suspected nuclear weapons program. The effectiveness of these sanctions, however, has been undermined by inconsistent application, inadequate enforcement and competing financial interests from private banks and corporations – including subsidiaries and affiliates of American-based companies – that invest in Iran’s energy and natural resource sectors. Challenges to the sanctions efforts will endure until the United States can secure greater cooperation from foreign governments and their own corporations to alter the regime’s behavior. Given the legal and reputational risks associated with doing business in Iran, what responsibilities do private companies have to restrict their commercial activities in Iran in light of the regime’s questionable nuclear ambitions? To what extent should national governments and multinational institutions restrict private sector activity in the interest of national security?
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