With the presidential election fast approaching, businesses may be wondering what the next administration is likely to do with respect to sanctions and export controls. If Secretary Clinton is elected, the most likely path is a continuation in general of the current policies. If Donald Trump is elected, the prospects are much less clear. And in any event, much depends upon international developments which, as we saw in connection with Ukraine, can change the international sanctions situation quite quickly.

In the event of a Democratic victory in the elections, Secretary Clinton has been relatively candid regarding her position on various countries laboring under sanctions regimes:

  • Iran: Secretary Clinton was a member of the Obama Administration, and was involved in negotiations with Iran over the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). She has evinced suspicion of the Iranian government, going so far as to identify Iran as one of her “enemies,” but is likely to observe the terms of the JPOA, but to interpret the agreement narrowly.
  • Russia: Secretary Clinton’s distaste for President Putin and the Russian government is well-publicized. However, the United States has made great efforts to align its sanctions policies towards Russia with those of the European Union. Given current opposition within the EU to any expansion of sanctions against Russia, this may limit any expansion of U.S. sanctions against Russia.
  • Syria: Secretary Clinton has made clear her belief that President Assad must leave power in Syria, but U.S. sanctions against Syria are already quite comprehensive, and it is unclear how they could be expanded significantly.
  • Cuba: While there is no indication that Secretary Clinton shares President Obama’s commitment to liberalization of relations with Cuba, there is no reason to believe that she would reverse any of the recent measures, although the rate of softening could certainly slow. Significantly, a major portion of U.S. sanctions against Cuba are statutorily imposed, so that U.S. sanctions policy regarding Cuba will depend in large part upon developments in Congress.

Overall, Secretary Clinton is associated with proponents of a “more assertive” U.S. foreign policy. Increased use of sanctions as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy is likely, but it is premature to identify any specific examples. Similarly, it is likely that the current ongoing efforts to reform and rationalize U.S. export control laws will continue, but no appreciable liberalization is likely.

It is much more difficult to anticipate what President Trump would do with respect to sanctions and export controls. He has no record to review, and has made few if any statements regarding the subject. Mr. Trump has stated that he favors a less-interventionist foreign policy overall, and has called for better relations with Russia in particular. Whether this would translate into any liberalization of U.S. sanctions and export control policy, however, is unclear.