Effectiveness of Iran Sanctions Widely Questioned
WASHINGTON - While top U.S.
officials touted the U.N. Security Council's approval Wednesday of a
new sanctions resolution against Iran as a major diplomatic
breakthrough, most nuclear and Iran specialists say it is unlikely to
be effective and could prove counterproductive.
Even if, as expected,
they are followed up by additional unilateral sanctions on the part of
both the United States and the members of the European Union (EU), the
aim of persuading Iran to curb its nuclear programme is unlikely to be
achieved, according to these experts.
almost impossible to find anyone here in Washington who believes
sanctions will make any difference," noted Suzanne Maloney, a senior
fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked on Iran issues under
Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at a forum on Iran at the
Wilson International Centre for Scholars Monday.
leadership has demonstrated that under pressure they are most averse to
compromise," she added, noting that the Islamic Republic has faced much
more formidable diplomatic and economic pressures in its 31-year
history, particularly during the Iran-Iraq War and when the price of
oil fell to record lows.
Other analysts said the new sanctions,
particularly if combined with additional U.S. and EU measures directed
at Iran's financial and energy sectors, are likely to strengthen
hard-liners in Tehran and rally nationalist sentiment behind them.
new resolution, the fourth aimed at getting Iran to freeze its uranium
enrichment programme since 2006, forbids U.N. members from transferring
most conventional arms sales to Iran, calls for greater scrutiny of
Iran's overseas banking operations, adds more Iranian companies and
individuals to a U.N. blacklist, and authorises countries to stop and
inspect Iran-bound ships suspected of carrying cargo connected to
Tehran's nuclear programme.
The resolution, a top priority of
the Barack Obama administration for the past six months, passed by a
margin of 14 to two, with Lebanon abstaining. Previous sanctions
resolutions against Iran were passed unanimously.
The two no
votes were cast by Turkey and Brazil, which last month jointly
negotiated an accord with Tehran under which the latter would transfer
about half its low-enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile to Turkey as a
confidence-building measure designed to facilitate the resumption of
talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security
Council and Germany (P5+1).
While a statement issued by the P5+1
foreign ministers after passage of the resolution expressed
appreciation for the Brazilian-Turkish initiative, it did not indicate
any interest in following up.
Indeed, according to one report,
Washington sent a confidential negative response to the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to which the Brazilian-Turkish initiative
was directed on the eve of Wednesday's vote, although one senior U.S.
official, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns,
told reporters Wednesday the accord was still being discussed.
events are likely a setback for resolving the nuclear issue," said
Jamal Abdi, policy director for the National Iranian American Council.
"There are fears that this may mark the United States' return to the
(George W.) Bush paradigm in which we apply pressure for pressure's
sake and squander opportunities for engagement in favour of talking
While the P5+1's ministers also stressed their eagerness
to resume talks with Tehran based on earlier proposals, at least one of
which is similar to the Brazilian-Turkish initiative "at the earliest
opportunity", observers here expressed scepticism.
"I see the
P5+1 statement inviting further dialogue as just a fig leaf for a
policy of confrontation," said Jim Fine, a regional specialist at the
Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby group.
Congress is certain to go ahead with energy sanctions. Overall, I think
this will put Iran in an uglier mood, reinforce the hard-liners, and
move us closer to military confrontation," he said.
As to the
new U.N. sanctions themselves, analysts here disagreed with Obama's
characterisation of them as "the toughest sanctions ever faced by the
In a draft resolution circulated in March,
Washington had asked for mandatory sanctions denying Iran access to
international banking services, capital markets and access to
international airspace and waters for its commercial trade. Those
provisions were deleted early in P5 discussions at the insistence of
Russia and China, which succeeded in further diluting the resolution
over the following three months. Indeed, most of the restrictions
included in the final draft are voluntary.
"As a result, the
resolution is not strong enough to change Iran's strategic calculation
any more than the three resolutions that preceded it," according to an
article posted by Christopher Wall, an international lawyer who served
as assistant secretary of commerce for export administration under
Bush, on foreignpolicy.com.
"The U.N. sanctions against Iran have been watered down to almost nothing," he added.
assessment was echoed by Flynt and Hillary Leverett, Iran specialists
under both Clinton and Bush, who have long argued for a "grand bargain"
with Iran on a host of issues and criticised Obama for not breaking
decisively with Bush's policy. They called the new resolution
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in Congress
said a conference committee set up to reconcile versions of a
unilateral sanctions bill passed by the House of Representatives and
the Senate earlier this year will wrap up its work and send a final
version to Obama by the end of the month. That bill is certain to
include penalties on third companies of third countries that do
business with Iran, particularly in the energy and telecommunications
"We now look to the European Union and other key
nations that share our deep concern about Iran's nuclear intentions to
build on the Security Council resolution by imposing tougher national
measures that will deepen Iran's isolation and, hopefully, bring the
Iranian leadership to its senses," said Rep. Howard Berman, chair of
the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"The (Barack) Obama
administration has indicated that it anticipates these provisions will
provide a legal basis for other states - like members of the European
Union and Japan - to enact tougher national sanctions of their own,"
the Leveretts wrote in a post on their website, www.raceforiran.com.
the United States is not going to get anything approaching universal
compliance with these 'optional' sanctions," they added. "The net
effect will be to accelerate the reallocation of business opportunities
in the Islamic Republic from Western states to China and other non-
Moreover, according to Maloney, additional
unilateral sanctions, notably those favoured by Congress to penalise
companies that export refined oil products, such as gasoline, to Iran,
"will make it more difficult to get follow-up actions by the