The new sanctions on Iran recently announced include eight individuals, six ships, five banks and 15 other entities.
US Treasury officials claim that companies based in Turkey, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates have served as front companies to help Iranian Mahan Air to purchase airplane engines and other parts. Because of their limited scope, the new sanctions will be ineffectual, and only damage the prospects for peace with that nation.
According to the Geneva “interim” agreement reached last November between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany and Russia), Tehran would freeze its nuclear programme in exchange for modest sanctions relief, thus opening the way to further talks aimed at resolving once and for all this difficult issue.
However, following this landmark accord, more than two dozen Senators introduced legislation to impose new oil and financial sanctions on Iran, despite an unclassified intelligence assessment that new sanctions “would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran”.
In a statement following the new sanctions, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said: “Our actions today and since the start of the talks are consistent with our commitments under the Joint Plan of Action, which provided limited relief of certain sanctions in exchange for Iranian steps that halted its nuclear programme and rolled it back in key respects.”
This statement, however, flies against a past warning by the White House that new sanctions “…run counter to the spirit of the Geneva pledge of no new sanctions during negotiations, and risks empowering Iranian forces hoping to scuttle nuclear talks”.
Those opposing any agreement with the West are Iranian hardliners, which traditional clerical conservatives and Revolutionary Guard officials, notably its top commander Major General Mohamed Jafari.
Predictably, Iranian President Hassan Rohani has sharply criticised the new sanctions, saying that they are “not compatible” with the spirit of current negotiations.
Also, while calling on “moderate” countries in the European Union to remind Washington of the adverse consequences of new sanctions, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, said that they showed Washington’s confusion on its foreign policy and particularly on its views towards Iran.
Iran’s domestic politics are of paramount importance in trying to reach a deal on its nuclear programme. Hardliners in the government believe that halting the country’s nuclear programme is an unacceptable concession to the West.
President Rohani and his allies, however, believe that Iran’s national interest are best served by international recognition and the elimination of sanctions, as long as Iran maintains the latent capability to develop nuclear weapons should need arise. Rohani is concerned about the effect that sanctions have already had on the Iranian economy and the country’s financial sectors.
Although the effect of sanctions on Iran’s economy have been significant – they have led to a significant reduction of oil exports and caused a sharp decline in the rial, Iran’s currency - the country has been able to resist them.
As things stand now, every effort should be placed on trying to achieve an agreement in November 24, the date until which the interim agreement was postponed. That way, a significant source of tension will be eliminated in a region of the world that has been ravaged by deadly conflicts.
♦ Dr Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.
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