The tac­tics be­hind sanc­tions on Iran

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

After three decades of U.S. sanc­tions on Iran, you could be for­given for think­ing that the new bout of sanc­tions is hardly news wor­thy. Yet the lat­est list of 25 tar­geted firms and in­di­vid­u­als is im­por­tant; it is as much an at­tempt to halt Iran’s nu­clear pro­gramme as a pow­er­ful and sym­bolic warn­ing at a time when global pow­ers are work­ing to­wards an agree­ment.

Iran’s Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani was crit­i­cal of the Amer­i­can decision. He told Ira­nian TV that he re­mained com­mit­ted to the in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions but that the im­po­si­tion of fur­ther sanc­tions was a “very ugly move” and “in con­flict with the spirit of the talks.” Rouhani has a point. Adding sanc­tions does seem to break the im­plicit trust be­hind the very con­cept of ne­go­ti­a­tion. Yet, Iran is no in­no­cent player. It is still de­vel­op­ing a nu­clear pro­gramme, and Amer­ica, more than ever, needs to act tough.

Here’s the back­drop. An in­terim deal was reached last year in Geneva that re­lieved cer­tain sanc­tions in ex­change for lim­its to Iran’s atomic ac­tiv­i­ties.

Talks then be­gan in Fe­bru­ary be­tween Iran and the U.S., China, France, Ger­many, Rus­sia and Bri­tain, with the goal of reach­ing a long-term agree­ment un­der which Iran would end its nu­clear pro­gramme in re­turn for the full lifting of sanc­tions. Diplo­mats failed to reach such an agree­ment by the agreed July 20, and ex­tended the dead­line un­til Novem­ber 24.

In the weeks since the dead­line was ex­tended, the Sunni Is­lamist group, ISIS, has raged through­out Iraq and Syria, bru­tally mur­der­ing those who op­pose them and threat­en­ing to ex­pand their Caliphate into Jor­dan and Saudi Ara­bia. The Shia Mus­lims in Iran, along with the United States and Europe, have common mo­tive to im­pede ISIS’ ad­vances. It raised the ques­tion: is the en­emy of your en­emy your friend?

Wash­ing­ton an­nounced the new sanc­tions on Fri­day, with of­fi­cials say­ing that they tar­get those sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism, as­sist­ing the nu­clear pro­gramme, or in­volved in evad­ing pre­vi­ous sanc­tions. The mes­sage is clear: de­spite Ira­nian as­sis­tance to Kur­dish forces bat­tling ISIS, Amer­ica will not tread lightly and ap­pease the Per­sian Gulf regime. One shared en­emy doesn’t con­sti­tute a friend­ship.

In the cur­rent tur­bu­lence of the Mid­dle East, Amer­ica is surely more trou­bled than ever by the prospect of a nu­clear Iran. The White House will also be very con­scious that at the same time as ISIS’ ter­ror ac­tiv­i­ties, Ira­nian-backed Ha­mas, clas­si­fied as a ter­ror or­gan­i­sa­tion by the U.S. and EU, was fir­ing rock­ets into Is­rael, Amer­ica’s clos­est ally in the re­gion.

Ar­guably, the eco­nomic pain of sanc­tions so far has served a pur­pose, with some an­a­lysts cred­it­ing this as the very rea­son Iran came to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. Iran’s most valu­able ex­port, oil, has fallen from 2.4 mln bar­rels per day in 2011 to nearer 1 mln, and in­fla­tion is at record highs.

Since talks be­gan, an in­creas­ing num­ber of Western and Asia com­pa­nies have ex­pressed in­ter­est in do­ing business in Iran, tempt­ing the Ay­a­tol­lahs with still for­bid­den fruit.

Thus, the lat­est sanc­tions may serve as a re­minder of what the Ira­nian regime stands to lose. In the world of power and force that cur­rently dom­i­nate Mid­dle East­ern pol­i­tics, Amer­ica, who has made it clear that a mil­i­tary at­tack against Iran would be a last re­sort, has to play the strong­est hand it has left. Wash­ing­ton’s in­ten­tions are not to un­der­mine the talks as much as to jus­tify their pur­pose, and con­vey to Iran that the de­layed dead­line must be met. It’s a warn­ing against com­pla­cency: merely sit­ting at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble will not suf­fice.

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