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The Race for Iran



Our colleague, Robert Dreyfuss, contributing editor to The Nation, published a very sharp piece on the diplomatic, political, and strategic consequences of the new sanctions against Iran approved yesterday by the United Nations Security Council.  The title of Bob’s piece gives you the bottom line—“Iran Sanctions:  Not Just Useless But Counterproductive”.  We append a slightly redacted version of the piece below.    

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

The vote by the UN Security Council…to impose a fourth round of UN-backed sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program—the first three were enacted under pressure from President Bush and his administration, including Ambassador John Bolton—are a sign that President Obama has no idea what to do about Iran.

Hint: Sanctions ain’t it.

You’ll hear a lot from the Iran-bashing, neoconservative crowd and from the Obama administration itself, especially the State Department, about what a great victory this is.  In particular, you’ll hear Obama and the State Department tout the fact that it was Obama’s brilliant effort to win over Russia and China for the sanctions vote that made all the difference.

They’ll tell you that Obama contrived to isolate Iran and to persuade Moscow and Beijing to go along with the new sanctions on Iran, when in fact Russia and China succeeded in ensuring that the sanctions imposed by the UNSC are meaningless.  And, of course, President Bush did the same thing, three times:  Despite Bush’s cowboy approach to unilateral hegemonism and unchecked wars abroad, Bush, too, managed to get Russian and Chinese support for three previous votes at the UNSC for sanctions on Iran between 2006 and 2008.

A self-congratulatory statement from the State Department’s office at the UN—i.e., from Susan Rice’s shop—notes that the United States “remains open to dialogue” with Iran, but it goes on to list no fewer than fourteen new or enhanced sanctions on Iran imposed by UNSC Resolution 1929.  In fact, none of the sanctions is worth a damn.  None of them are “crippling,” none of them target Iran’s oil and gasoline imports, none of them have a thing to do with Iran’s real economy, and none of them will do a thing to persuade, compel, or scare Tehran into changing its policy on its nuclear program.  (The fact that the sanctions are so mild and meaningless is the direct result of insistence by Russia and China that the sanctions have no impact on Iran’s population.)

So, according to the State Department, the sanctions in Res. 1929 ban nuclear and missile investment abroad, ban Iranian access to a range of conventional arms, restrict Iran’s access to ballistic missile technology, provide for nations to inspect ships carrying cargo to Iran, target the Iran’s shipping firm IRISL and its airline for increased “vigilance,” and various measures dealing with finance, including calling on all nations to “prohibit on their territories new banking relationships with Iran, including the opening of any new branches of Iranian banks, joint ventures and correspondent banking relationships, if there is a suspected link to proliferation.”  In response, Iran is likely to pretend to be outraged, but in fact Tehran is well aware that the sanctions are merely a political statement.  No doubt Iran is unhappy with the fact that neither Russia nor China acted to block or veto Res. 1929.  But they won’t accomplish their objective.

President Ahmadinejad is heading to China soon for a high-profile visit to Shanghai, where he may meet with President Hu Jintao.  And Iran has been meeting this week in Turkey with the Turks and the Russians.  Not that there isn’t some bad blood between Iran and its Asian allies: Miffed at Moscow and Beijing for backing the sanctions, Iran plans to boycott the latest meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian proto-alliance linking Russia, China, and various central Asian counties in which Iran has “observer” status.  Even so, the two big Asian powers aren’t about to let the United States impose harsh new penalties on Iran, and the Iranians know it.

At the security summit in Turkey on Tuesday, the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Russia—including Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin—engaged in what the New York Times called a “display of regional power that appeared to be calculated to test the United States just one day before a scheduled American-backed debate in the UN Security Council.”  At the meeting, Ahmadinejad and Putin held private talks, and Putin said publicly that the UNSC action “should not put Iran’s leadership or the Iranian people into difficulty.”

Brazil and Turkey voted against Res. 1929.  Earlier this month, Brazil and Turkey engaged in a brilliant diplomatic effort to persuade Iran to go along with the October, 2009, agreement worked out between Iran and United States, in Geneva, but in slightly modified form.  The United States is angry at both countries for doing that, since it was seen (accurately) as an effort by the two regional powers to slow down the mad rush to sanctions.  The vote by Brazil and Turkey will not endear either country to Hillary Clinton’s heart.  In a calculated insult to Brazil and Turkey, the United States today told the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency

(IAEA) that the diplomatic effort was a bad idea.

The neocons, of course, are pretending to be overjoyed.  Pretending, because the most virulent neoconservatives, such as Bolton, have long argued that the sanctions are useless and meaningless and that they won’t deter Iran.  And the neoconservative watchdog group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), issued a statement moments after the UNSC vote praising the action but calling for more:  “In passing a fourth round of sanctions, the United Nations Security Council has sent a clear message to Iran: the cost of pursuing an illegal nuclear weapons program is international economic isolation.  While this is a clear message and an important symbol of the international community’s opposition to Iran’s current policy, it will not be sufficient to halt Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Further action is required in the form of even more meaningful sanctions.”

More sanctions are indeed coming, but it’s an open question as to whether they will be “meaningful.”  Both the United States and the European Union intend to use the UNSC resolution as the starting point for imposing unilateral, non-UN sanctions on Iran, including Treasury Department-sponsored financial sanctions that could target Iran’s Central Bank.  And Congress, in its infinite nonwisdom, is likely to pass legislation that will put enormous pressure on the White House to restrict Iran’s supply of imported gasoline and refined petroleum products.

Perhaps the saddest reaction to the provocative but useless sanctions resolution came from J Street, the supposedly pro-peace, anti-AIPAC Jewish lobby, which gushed over the resolution:

“J Street welcomes the passage of enhanced multilateral and broad-based sanctions on Iran at the United Nations Security Council today…Today, the Government of Iran hears a clear message from the international community that there are real consequences to continued obfuscation, delay, and intransigence over its nuclear program, as well as real benefits should they fully address international concerns.”

The fact is that the resolution will make it harder, not easier to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear program.  That’s because it will make it more difficult for Iran’s fractious leadership to make any conciliatory move without appearing to be caving in to international pressure.

For Obama, who tried to open the door for dialogue with Iran, Res. 1929 is a symbol of his failure.  Since military action has been ruled out, the choice is between diplomacy and containment of a post-nuclear Iran. In that choice, the sanctions are irrelevant.  But they do make the diplomacy a lot harder.  For the administration, the best that can be said is that the sanctions are an effort to buy time, to stave off the Congressional crazies who demand actions such as naval embargos of Iran and the neoconservative lunatics who want to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb Iran.  Unfortunately, President Obama, it only encourages them.



  1. James Canning says:


    I agree absolutely that Israel’s game plan is to try to coerce Iran into ending support for Hamas and Hezbollah. And that the game plan includes permanent suppression of the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinians.

    Too few Americans, even now, comprehend the degree to which US foreign policy is determined, or malevolently influenced, by Jewish interests trying to achieve permanent oppression of the Palestinians who do not leave Palestine.

  2. Rehmat says:

    James Canning

    As my dear friend Gilad Atzmon said that even if Ahmadinejad stands on his head to please leaders of Zionist entity – they would not let Iranian nation in peace until Islamic Republic withdraw its support of Hamas and Hizbullah.

    I added my cooment: “If ever that happens – Zionazi leaders will demand that Tehran declare Hamas and Hizbullah “terrorist organizations” as Israel, the US and Canada have done.

    Terrorism: Theirs and Ours

  3. James Canning says:


    I am aware of Khamanei’s position, and his status within the governing structure. Does one distinguish between an Iranian insistence on enriching U to 5% or less, with continuing IAEA cooperation, or a further enrichment to 20%? The choice of the latter in my view would be very dangerous, and it would play so very readily into the hands of the Iranophobes why try to claim Iran is building nukes or soon will be.

  4. Rehmat says:

    James Canning

    The REAL decision making authority in case of military and nuclear program is the Supreme Leader, Ayatullah ali Khamenei, who was not subject of 2009 election. He has repeated himself many times saying that Iran’s nuclear program is non-negotiable. His comments before the 2009 elections predicted the double standard of the western powers about the so-called “democratic process”.

    “Those who accept democracy so long as it results in achieving their aims are war-mongering adventurers. If they talk about peace, it’s nothing but lies and deception,” – Rahbar, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei in his address to the Fourth International Conference on Palestine, Tehran March 4-6, 2009.


  5. chris mar says:

    Putin said to Sarkozy on 06/11 that Russia will freeze delivery of S-300 air defense missiles to Iran. In addition there is a report in AlJazeera that Saudi Arabia authorized the use of their air space for Israeli attack on Iran.

    We are heading toward another ME war of aggression by the US/Israel and the US public will be cheering on, I am afraid.

  6. James Canning says:


    Wlaberg’s piece is interesting. But I think Russia comprehends that Iran did not “accept” the IAEA deal last year largely due to the disruption in the decision-making process caused by the unrest following the election.

  7. Rehmat says:

    Eric Walberg, who writes column for Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram says that while washington is celebrating their ‘victory’ at the UNSC – Moscow has managed to delay America’s new Middle East War for Israel.


  8. James Canning says:

    I agree with Robert Dreyfuss that the sanctions only encourage the crazies in the US who are pushing for war. He might have added, that many of those who are so vicious toward Iran, want to enable Israel to continue to be as vicious as possible toward the Palestinians trying to achieve their legitimate national aspirations.

  9. James Canning says:


    Is Hillary Clinton in her job in order to placate Jewish financiers who are essential to the Democratic party’s fund-raising? Is she in effect the stooge of Haim Saban? Dennis Ross seems to tell Hillary what lines to say in her public appearances dealing with Iran. But some within the White House do not think Ross is giving good advice to Obama.

  10. James Canning says:

    Bravo! Obama very foolishly wanted to post a “win” in the “win column” and have something to point to when he asks Jewish financiers for more political funding.
    The best interests of the American people, and the best interests of the people of the Middle East, do not enter into the equation.

  11. JohnH says:

    The US and Israel have provided Ahmadinejad with an impressive set of talking points.

    The US media prevents most Americans from hearing them, but others will. It’s tough for US public diplomacy to win the battle of ideas, when they put their hypocrisy on a silver platter, just waiting for people like Admadinejad to call them out.

  12. David says:

    American people must pour into street and bring down the zionist running foreign policy with the agents, Dennis Ross, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Holbrook. This is the kind of phony diplomacy a zionist fifth column, Dennis Ross has forced to their puppet Obama to protect Israel’s interest against American’s interest. This policy goes to nowhere except a war.
    When are you going to move your behind before is toooooooooooooooooo late.

  13. Rehmat says:

    I agree. These sanctions are non-productive and effect only the ordinary Iranians especially the 23 million of them living in the rural areas. They’re the ones’ who are benefiting from Ahmadinejad reforms and government aid. These sanctions will put pressure on Ahmadinejad administration to pump more fund into military industry and on armed forces. Currently, Iran spents around US$5 billion on its armed forces – but it could easily jump to Israel’s annual budget of US$13.7 billion – less, of course the US$3 billion military aid Tel aviv receives from Washington to terrorize its neighboring countries.

    In the end, like the previous three sanctions – this one is bound to backfire.


  14. b says:

    China Daily is all Iran sanctions today:

    China Daily Editorial (i.e. the Chinese government’s view)
    Workable diplomacy

    However, sanctions can never fundamentally solve the international standoff over the nuclear issue. The sanctions do not necessarily mean diplomatic effort will be a closed door. It should, instead, activate another round of diplomatic dialogue to bring Teheran back to the negotiating table.

    China is always committed to a dual track approach in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. While insisting that any UN resolution should contribute to the international non-proliferation regime, it has repeatedly stressed that the action be conducive to peace and stability in the Middle East and that it guarantees Iran’s right for peaceful use of nuclear energy.

    Iranian citizens should not bear the brunt of the sanctions and normal business exchanges with other nations should not get affected either.

    All these principles have guided China’s participation in the consultations on imposing sanctions against Iran. China hopes Iran would take concrete steps to convince the international community about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.

    In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities was brought up for the first time in 19 years at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, which began in Vienna on Monday.

    The highlighting of this issue could be yet another important step in the region’s de-nuclearization process.
    “it guarantees Iran’s right for peaceful use of nuclear energy”

    Sounds good to me.

    Also in today’s China Daily this OpEd about the NPT
    Why can’t the globe be nuke-free

    So disarmament is back in international focus after years of being ignored. The “final document” is expected to reinvigorate the core principles of the treaty and boost the confidence and motivation of the NPT regime.

    But experience tells us that it is difficult to reach an agreement on the review conference, and even more difficult to implement it. First, Washington has no intention of changing its deterrence strategy. Large-scale nuclear disarmament efforts have not been on its agenda, either. For the US, a “nuclear-free world” is only a slogan for promoting nuclear disarmament and does not mean it wants to completely prohibit and thoroughly destroy its nuclear arsenals.

    In his Prague speech, Obama also said that as long as other countries have nuclear weapons the US has to have secure and effective nuclear deterrence. The 2011 US budget for nuclear arms will reach $7.01 billion, 9.8 percent more than 2010, and next year’s level will be maintained until 2015, of course with the provision of further increase. The US, thus, does not show any sign of striving for a nuclear-free world.

    The new START, signed by the US and Russia, is intended more at public relations. A country will find itself in a blind alley if it sticks to unilateralism and pursues absolute security. Over-reliance on public relations could make a country break its own promise and cause serious setbacks to arms control.

    Second, creating a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East faces tremendous resistance. Owing to the insistence of Arab countries the 1995 NPT Review Conference passed a resolution on a nuclear-free Middle East. But little progress in this area has been made in the 15 years since then. Because of a lack of mandatory binding of the resolution, it is doubtful whether the conference on a nuclear-free Middle East would convene on time or any substantive achievement could be made.

    and a Web Op-Ed on Iran’s reaction to the new sanctions
    Political elements top process of sanctioning Iran

    This year, Washington stepped up its efforts in this regard in pursuit of significant breakthroughs on the diplomatic front. With the US economy yet to completely shake off the shadow of a world financial crisis and under the pressure of high unemployment rate and other social discontent, the Obama administration is eager to reap some fruit in the international arena so as to woo voters in November’s mid-term election.

    A UN resolution against Iran could kill many birds with one stone. To name just a few: prove that the influence of the only super power is as strong as ever in the international arena; deter a few nations, such as North Korea, that dare to openly challenge Uncle Sam; divert American people’s attention away from domestic woes; expand US interests in the Middle East while reducing those of the country’s major potential competitors–Russia and China.

    Hence, the Obama administration has achieved its political purposes by pushing a UN resolution against Iran.

    Whether the resolution could be carried out to the letter will be another question. For one thing, the voting result already lays bare the divide within the UN Security Council. Brazil and Turkey had voted against the resolution.

    The two countries apparently felt hurt after they brokered a nuclear fuel swap deal with Tehran last month. The so-called Tehran Declaration marks a significant step in international diplomatic efforts to break the impasse on the Iranian nuclear issue. Although Tehran had pinned high hopes on the deal to fend off new sanctions, the deal does carry a message that Tehran was willing to cooperate with the West. However, Washington did not buy this goodwill and pushed for the UN resolutions anyway. It is understandable, then, that Iran should react so strongly toward the new sanctions.

  15. Iranian@Iran says:

    Iran does not have a fractious leadership.

  16. Arnold Evans says:

    Iran is going to be nuclear capable, to have a substantial stock of LEU and enrichment technology whether the US is hostile and confrontational or not.

    Choosing hostility rather than acceptance is the kind of mistake that will hasten the US fall from superpower status.