While the American public is being told that existing sanctions are crippling the Iranian economy, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports continue to show the Islamic Republic progressing on its nuclear program. For newly proposed sanctions, the following question arises: Will they, unlike their predecessors, be able to actually alter Iran’s behavior?
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and the committee’s ranking member U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) on Feb. 27 introduced a bill that would tighten sanctions on Iran. The legislation was announced just as Iranian leaders met in Kazakhstan with the P5+1 the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain, and received an offer of eased sanctions in return for reducing uranium enrichment.
The new legislation “is an effort to close loopholes that exist and tighten the noose even further,” Middle East expert Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC, told JNS.org. If passed, these sanctions will probably have more tactical success than previous ones, but it is “unknown if this legislation will provide the tipping point,” as Iran is surprisingly resilient, he said.
Though Iran has consistently denied its enrichment of uranium is intended to produce a nuclear weapon, in early February the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report that detailed the country’s installation of IR-2m centrifuges at the Natanz plant, where it was planning to install more than 2,000 such centrifuges.
The newly proposed Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 would increase President Barack Obama’s ability to prohibit Iranian imports that the West suspects Iran is using as a front for nuclear weapons development, such as mined metals or energy equipment. The legislation would further enforce the existing sanctioning of bank transactions with Iran.
The legislation calls on the U.S to work with European allies toward the cessation of Euro-denominated transactions. If passed in Congress, the bill will also require U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to decide if the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) should be considered a foreign terrorist organization and be subjected to additional sanctions.
“We will continue to tighten the screws on Iran until the regime abandons its nuclear weapons program. I hope this crisis can be resolved through diplomacy, but words cannot be a substitute for action, and the U.S. must keep all options on the table,” Engel said in a statement released Feb. 27.
In the meantime, four UN resolutions, and existing sanctions, are said to be crippling the Iranian economy. In July 2012, the New York Times reported that Iran had already lost about $10 billion alone in revenue from lost oil export revenues. At that time, such exports had been cut by more than a 25 percent since the beginning of last year. An internal Israeli Foreign Ministry document leaked last September showed that Iranian energy exports had fallen by 50 percent since the imposition of a European Union oil embargo earlier in 2012, the Telegraph reported. Perhaps most revealing is the fact that in the first 10 months of 2012, Iran’s currency, the Rial, lost more than 80 percent of its exchange value.
Sanctions are essentially “a bargaining chip, to make Iran’s position weaker in talks,” Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran, told JNS.org. Last week’s discussion with the P5+1 nations yielded an offer that promised Iran the easing of certain banking restrictions and sanctions on its gold and precious metals, in exchange for suspending uranium enrichment beyond 20 percent and allowing the IAEA to monitor Iranian nuclear facilities more frequently.
“We are heading for goals that will be satisfactory for both sides. I am very optimistic and hopeful,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Austrian broadcaster ORF during a visit to Vienna for a United Nations conference, according to Israel Hayom.
Further meetings between Iran and the P5+1 nations are scheduled in Istanbul in March and again in Kazakhstan in April.
If Iran shows no willingness to compromise, then sanctions against the Islamic Republic should be tightened because at this rate, without bolstered sanctions, the U.S. and other countries “could end up strengthening the hardliners,” Javedanfar told JNS.org. “The Iranian government is absolutely being difficult, but you have to wait to see how the Iranian government reacts after each round of talks,” he added.
Berman believes that the sanctions “are a tactical success but a strategic failure” because the Iranian regime has “shown more resilience than a lot of people thought” in terms of continuing uranium enrichment despite those sanctions.
In Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been alarmed by the possibility of nuclear Iran, there is uncertainty as to whether the U.S. will back the country up if it takes military action against Iran. “As a result, Israelis are having a domestic discussion [rather] than an international one,” Berman said.
Another group of bipartisan U.S. Senators introduced a resolution Feb. 28 to try to change this perception in Israel. If Israel is “compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military and economic support to the government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people and existence,” the resolution states.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced the measure in a press conference along with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Hoeven (R-ND), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The measure, however, is “not a green light to Israel to do anything other than defend itself,” Graham said. The senators hope to pass the resolution before Obama’s visit to Israel in March.
While Netanyahu has said the Iranian nuclear threat is the top priority for his next term, only 12 percent of respondents in a poll conducted by the Times of Israel in January chose Iran as the most important issue facing the next government.
Javedanfar believes a military intervention should be “out of the question for now” in Iran. “If Israel attacks them or America attacks them without giving diplomacy or sanctions a chance, then they will make a bomb, they have nothing to lose,” he told JNS.org.
It is fair to say that the U.S. is “pretty unserious about Iran,” Berman told JNS.org. China also continues trading with Iran, importing more than 400,000 barrels of Iranian oil a day. About 70 Chinese businesses currently operate in Iran, according to a recent report in the Iranian news agency IRNA. Countries like China, Berman warned, are continuing to do business with Iran because they are simply waiting until Iran enriches enough uranium that the world will simply be forced to return to normal trade relations with the Islamic Republic.
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