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Sanctions

  • 31 January 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

What Obama’s new team may mean for diplomatic progress with Iran

The commencement of President Obama’s second term in office brings a whole host of updates to his administration. With old advisors and secretaries departing and a new national security team being formed, several of these changes may have direct implications on future talks with Iran.

Foremost among these is the recent Senate confirmation of John Kerry as Secretary of State, as well as the appointment, if confirmed, of Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense. A key member of President Obama’s Iran negotiating team, Gary Samore, who was the White House White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism, is also leaving. Samore’s successor still has not been decided and his replacement will be one among many in President Obama’s Iran and Middle East teams that will shake out in the upcoming weeks and months.

There are indications that these changes, especially at the State Department and the Pentagon, will make way for an opportunity for serious engagement with Iran. Both John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are arguably less hawkish on Iran than their predecessors, and Kerry has in the past recognized Iran’s right to nuclear enrichment (a key Iranian demand).

If serious negotiations are to occur, they will have to be based on mutual, give and take compromise by both Iran and the U.S. Undoubtedly, Iran’s chief demand will be sanctions relief and a recognition of a right to enrichment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and for the U.S. it will be to reduce that enrichment to lower grades and hold Iran accountable to NPT obligations through increased inspections.

Former Ambassador William H. Luers and Thomas Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs, have outlined how a possible deal would work in their recent article for the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The shape of a deal on the nuclear issues is obliquely understood by both sides, but Iran has made clear it expects some specificity on this issue. Of course getting to a deal is a problem because of 30 years of mistrust between the two sides. So at the most basic level, Iran should agree to keep in full its nonproliferation treaty commitment and to provide for the greatest transparency so inspectors can monitor its nuclear program.

“On the U.S. side, there should be a plan to reduce the sanctions on nuclear development as well as recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes only. An early start would be for Iran to stop production of 20 percent-enriched uranium (which can shorten the time needed to produce weapons-grade uranium) in exchange for relaxed sanctions.”

Both sides have increasingly given signals of willingness to come to compromise, and even the principles of a compromise have also been established. As Obama’s second term changes shape out, there is reason to be hopeful for the upcoming nuclear talks with Iran. A hope that, for the million of Iranians currently bearing the brunt of US sanctions, cannot come to fruition soon enough.

  • 8 November 2012
  • Posted By Brett Cox
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions

Iranian Public Opinion Sheds Light on How to Avoid War

What do pollsters who just finished surveying Iranian public opinion and the former Deputy Assistant of Defense for the Middle East have in common? They both agreed on what a diplomatic solution with Iran would look like at a recent Stimson Center panel.

Two thirds of Iranians want their government to establish a diplomatic relationship with the United States, according to Steven Kull of WorldPublicOpinion.org. Yet, polls from RAND, World Public Opinion and elsewhere have consistently shown over 90% of the Iranian public support a civilian nuclear program over the last 7 years.

Dr. Colin Kahl, a former senior Defense Department official and Georgetown professor, highlighted Iranians’ support for domestic enrichment as a “really important factor for U.S. policy makers to keep in mind.”

Kahl touted the Obama administration’s current approach as pushing Iran towards a deal, and argued that the U.S. must offer Iran a face-saving way out of its impasse to avoid war:

“The regime fears unrest. The regime fears a war. And to get out of that, they sign a face saving deal that gives them a lot of nuclear activities, a lot of nuclear cooperation, but caps their enrichment at 5% under extraordinarily intrusive inspections. That’s the only deal that is politically viable in Iran.”

The panelists agreed that such a proposal offered the best chance for a peaceful resolution to the U.S.-Iran conflict. But Ebrahim Mohseni, PhD candidate at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and lecturer at University of Tehran, argued that the focus on pressure risked having the opposite of the intended effect:

“When you are dealing with an outside enemy, usually what has happened in the course of human history and in the case of Iran, is the exact opposite, is the ‘rally around the flag’ syndrome… because people want to protect the government in the face of international pressure.”

But that was not the most risky aspect of the focus on pressure, according to Mohseni. He said the polling data led him to conclude “there is a strong positive correlation between fear of military action against Iran and support for an Iranian nuclear weapons program.”

In other words, the push by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some in Congress to get the President to threaten war against Iran even more explicitly will only make war more likely.

  • 24 October 2012
  • Posted By Brett Cox
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions

Obama & Romney Agree on Sanctions As Medicine Grows Scarce in Iran

When it came to sanctions, the third presidential debate resembled an argument over which candidate could punish Iranians more with the “most crippling sanctions ever.”

Meanwhile, the number of unavailable medicines in Iran jumped from 30 to 90 in the last five months according to tejaratnews.com. There has been a gradual slide towards crisis for Iran’s sick, as sanctions cut off more than just Iran’s oil exports. Indeed, this report just confirms multiple other reports that the sanctions are depriving the sick and dying of much needed medicine.

At NIAC’s leadership conference earlier this month, Erich Ferrari, a Washington-based sanctions expert, explained how medical exports to Iran are being blocked, even though these items are technically exempt from sanctions. The U.S. government has sanctioned Iran’s entire banking system, and imposed massive penalties on foreign banks for dealing with Iranian financial institutions.  As a result, foreign banks are ceasing all trade with Iran, including food and medicine.

Tejarat reports that a growing number of sick are turning to alternative, and more dangerous, means of treatment such as faulty generics from India and China, untested indigenous prototypes, and herbalists.

Ferarri described two such instances with harmful, even deadly, consequences. In one case, an Iranian importer turned to China for pain medication and ended up empty handed. “They spent about five million dollars and, when it got to Iran, they tested it, and about 85% of it was just pure chalk, with no medicinal value.” He spoke of one of his clients whose aunt in an Iranian hospital was unable to obtain basic IV fluids. “The hospitals in Iran substituted what’s in the IV with just water. And because of that, her condition continued to worsen and worsen. She died, in the hospital, because they couldn’t get the products they needed.”

The Tejarat article recalled the days before punitive sanctions were put in place, when 94% of the substances needed to domestically produce most medicines were imported from mostly Western Europe and North America. However, a 30 to 40% price increase of medicines in just the last few months has served only to impoverish regular Iranians while empowering the government.

In the grander scheme of things, all are being affected by the sanctions, from management and officials, pharmaceutical manufacturers, distribution companies, hospitals and even pharmacies.

Such circumstances have forced Aban 13 Pharmacy, Iran’s most important for filling special medications, to implement a quota system. And, as is the norm in a time of shortage, many patients and their families have resorted to hoarding and buying in bulk, even smuggling needed medications across the border as if they were contraband.

Some Iranians simply cannot cope with the hardship imposed by the sanctions and Iran’s struggling economy. Golnaz Esfandiari, reporting to Radio Free Europe, cited one cancer patient’s struggle, “Before, some foreign made drugs were available for 2,000,000 rials. But currently the price of an injection needed for cancer patients after chemotherapy is 50,000,000 rials.” Her source continued, “As a patient, I’d rather die than impose such cost on my family.”

Blocking Iran talks is rerun of Iraq failure

This past weekend, with news that the U.S. and Iran may be planning direct talks soon to address the nuclear standoff, there were swift reactions by some to try to kill the initiative.  Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren warned that Iran should not be “rewarded” with direct talks, and Senator Lindsey Graham–who has pledged the U.S. will join Israel if they choose to bomb Iran–ominously said “the time for talking is over.”

For some, it seems that negotiations with Iran that could resolve the nuclear impasse are a bigger danger than Iran’s nuclear program.

Rolf Ekéus, who headed the UN team charged with eliminating Iraqi WMD infrastructure from 1991 to 1997, makes a compelling case in Foreign Affairs that the international community is indeed headed down the same path with Iran that we took with Iraq.  The piece, co-written with Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, presents a timeline in which a U.S. policy aimed at regime change prevented sanctions from being removed and made war inevitable:

  • In 1991, after the Gulf War, the UN Security Council requires Iraq to destroy all WMD material and accept international inspections.  
  • From 1991 to 1997, Iraq procedes with disarmament in order to get the international community to honor its end of the deal: to lift UN financial and trade embargoes once Iraq has complied.
  • By 1997, Iraq completes disarmament and the UN has a monitoring system in place.  There are calls in the Security Council to begin lifting the sanctions.
  • But that spring, Secretary of State Madeline Albright announces the U.S. will not lift the sanctions until Saddam is removed.  
  • By the end of 1998, Congress passes the Iraq Liberation Act which makes regime change the official U.S. policy towards Iraq.  President Clinton signs the bill into law.
  • In 1998, with no chance of getting sanctions lifted through cooperation, Saddam obstructs and finally kicks out inspectors after a U.S.-British bombing campaign.
  • Citing the Iraq Liberation Act and allegations of Iraqi WMD programs and capabilities, Congress authorizes war with Iraq and the U.S. invades in 2003.
  • 10 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file, Panel Discussion, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Why is the pro-war crowd lying about their own studies?

Within 45 minutes of the release of the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s (BPC) report, “The Price of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran,” pro-war pundits were  spinning its results.

The neoconservative Washington Free Beacon breathlessly announced, “REPORT: Nuclear Iran would ‘double’ oil prices, cost millions of U.S. jobs.”

The problem here is that the BPC report doesn’t say this.  It says that if there were a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran or Saudi Arabia and Iran, oil prices would double.  Yes, it is shocking–if a nuclear war broke out in the Middle East it would likely cost more to fill up your tank.

Given the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s track record of pro-war hyperbole on all things Iran, its stunning to see neoconservative rags spinning the BPC’s message even further.  But the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo  ignores the report’s findings and instead fabricates his own conclusions in an attempt to rebut warnings about the significant economic costs of military strikes on Iran (including $7 gas).

*Update: Now the Drudge Report has gotten into the act, reposting the Free Beacon piece with the same erroneous headline*

  • 9 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions, UN

UN Report: Sanctions worsen human rights problems in Iran

In a recently released report to the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon updated the body on the dismal human rights situation in Iran.  The report paints a bleak picture of the Iranian government’s attitude and actions towards its own people, concentrating on the extensive human rights violations of the Islamic Republic, but also finds that sanctions are creating additional human rights concerns for ordinary Iranians.

The critical sections of the document report “torture, amputations, flogging, the increasingly frequent application of the death penalty (including in public and for political prisoners), arbitrary detention and unfair trials” within Iran. Other violations noted include infringements against the rights of women, against  opposition political figures and the general electorate.  The report notes that “authorities have taken certain positive steps such as the decision to omit stoning as a method of execution,” but that judges do still retain the discretion to order such a sentence.  Another section  observes that, “the revised Islamic Penal Code, which is yet to be approved…establishes new measures to limit the juvenile death penalty,” but cautions that the new code fails to end juvenile executions.

In the midst of all of the findings of Iranian government sponsored repression, the Secretary General also examines the impact of western sanctions, under the title “Economic, social, and cultural rights”:

“The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine.”

The report notes rising concerns about the sanctions among civil society groups:

“A number of Iranian non-governmental organizations and activists have expressed concerns about the growing impact of sanctions on the population and have noted that inflation, rising prices of commodities, subsidy cuts and sanctions are compounding each other and having far-reaching effects on the general population. They report, for instance, that people do not have access to lifesaving medicines.”

Sanctions also worsen current humanitarian problems by hindering relief efforts and basic medical care in the country, according to the report:

“Even companies that have obtained the requisite licence to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions. Owing to payment problems, several medical companies have stopped exporting medicines to the Islamic Republic of Iran, leading to a reported shortage of drugs used in the treatment of various illnesses, including cancer, heart and respiratory conditions, thalassemia and multiple sclerosis.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that ordinary people in Iran are being squeezed by human rights violations–between the repression of their own government on one side, and the indiscriminate pressure of U.S.-led sanctions on the other.  These sanctions are not helping to alleviate the suffering among ordinary Iranians, they are actively making the situation even worse.

  • 9 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions

Food shipments halted as Maersk bows to U.S. Iran sanctions

Iran’s civilian population is already reeling from sanctions that, according to the United Nations, are cutting access to medicine and humanitarian goods.  But today, Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping container company, announced it will end port service in Iran.

In Maersk’s statement, they declared that their cargoes had been limited to goods for the welfare of the general population:

“To date, Maersk Line’s business in Iran has involved transporting foodstuffs and other goods, for example vehicles, for the benefit of the general civilian population. It is with regret that it is ceasing these activities.”

Maersk’s spokeswoman cited concerns about the possibility of penalties from the U.S. government, despite the fact that food is supposedly exempt from current U.S. sanctions:

“This is a pragmatic decision based on an assessment of balancing the benefits of doing limited business in Iran against the risk of damaging business opportunities elsewhere particularly the U.S.”

Maersk’s shutdown can only make basic foodstuffs more scarce for Iran’s civilian population, a trend we are likely to see continue as sanctions escalate.  As the UN reported in August:

“Even companies that have obtained the requisite license to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions.”

Because of the litany of broad economic sanctions in place, there are increasingly limited channels for legal humanitarian transactions regarding Iran, and fewer and fewer banks and companies willing to take the risk of violating the myriad sanctions.  Last week, a dozen U.S. lawmakers called on the President to take steps to ensure banking sanctions differentiate between blocked transactions and legally allowed transactions, such as food and medicine.

Iran is turning to unorthodox methods of securing food for its population. Traditionally a wheat exporter that allowed the private sector to manage food imports, Iran’s government has recently made large wheat purchases from Australia, Russia and the EU, as well pushing for a barter deal with Pakistan (Iran would send Pakistan pig iron and fertilizer in exchange for wheat).

  • 19 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

Sanctions contribute to rising unemployment in Iran

The negative effects of sanctions on average Iranians are growing clearer and clearer. The latest piece on the issue, from Reuters, highlights the fact that the unemployment rate is still rising throughout the Iranian economy.

At the beginning of the year, the Iran Census Centre statistics pointed to an urban unemployment rate of 12.5%. Among the young, the official rate was much higher, at 29.1%. These numbers, like the reported inflation rate, are judged by most experts to be far below the true figures. Abbas Vatanpour, a former Iranian representative at the International Labor Organization, thinks youth unemployment could be as high as 50 per cent, while Mehrdad Emadi, an Iranian-born economic adviser to the European Union, believes the headline unemployment figure is above 20 percent.

According to The Telegraph, “rising joblessness is being fuelled by Iran’s exclusion last March from the Swift banking system, preventing businessmen from carrying out international transactions.” In some cases, this measure has led to factory closure due to an inability to obtain components. In others, the costs of components have soared, driving up the final price to a point that consumer demand drops. These mechanisms have reduced production in the automotive sector by 30% in the past six months, a figure reported by Iranian media.

In raw numbers, “Iran-based economists and members of parliament critical of the government, estimate that 500,000-800,000 Iranians have lost their jobs in the past year.” In September 2011, former Minister of Labor Abdolreza Sheikholeslami declared that university graduates were 10 times more likely to be unemployed than those with less education.  Indeed, while these losses are hitting all job sectors, they are disproportionately punishing the educated sector and undermining the Iranian middle class “that has been at the center of the democracy movement.”

These Are the Facts

Today marked the release of the first in a series of reports from an impressive group of former US ambassadors, retired generals and policy experts dubbed The Iran Project. The primary purpose of the paper, titled “Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran”, is to answer the tough questions and ensure that Americans are as informed as possible before the nation hurriedly decides to strike Iranian nuclear facilities: Can military strikes stop Iran’s nuclear program? What are the immediate and long-term impacts? Are strikes even possible?

The report has already made a splash with its frank assessment of the significant costs of military strikes and what it says are the limited gains.

First to the plate, the Washington Post:

The assessment said extended U.S. strikes could destroy Iran’s most important nuclear facilities and damage its military forces but would only delay — not stop — the Islamic republic’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb.

[The report] says achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation — including a land occupation — more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

  • 10 September 2012
  • Posted By Brett Cox
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Election 2012, Persian Gulf, Sanctions

The Realities of “Preventive” Strikes

Certain media outlets as well as conservative political camps in both the US and Israel would have you believe that it would take no more than a few days of airstrikes to delay and/or end Iran’s nuclear program. This claim is misleading in more ways than I can count, but here are a few.

Compared to the peaceful options laid out by Trita Parsi at last week’s Wilson Center panel discussion, “preventive strikes” carry a high risk of Iranian retaliation, regional war and American casualties. Pacifist fluff? Hardly. Take it from Admiral Michael Mullen:

“The US is aware that the action of a military strike could be destabilizing for the entire Middle East region and potentially generate a nuclear weapons race in that part of the world. I think an attack would also be, by us or by anybody else, very destabilizing.”

Further, according to a report published by CSIS, Gen. James N. Mattis, Commander of US Central Command, told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.

The report CSIS outlines that retaliation from Iran would include “swarm tactics” on a heavy US naval presence and a potential rain of missiles from Iran – well known in the region for an ample ballistic missile program. Missile attacks on Gulf neighbors, all members of a united Gulf Cooperation Council, would give them a right to return fire in self-defense.

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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