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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feeble, flaccid sanctions

No one likes to be put out to pasture, lest of all a (former) superpower. The announcement on Monday of a deal among Iran, Turkey and Brazil to ship some 1,200 kilos of 3.5% enriched uranium to Turkey led to the P - 5 + 1 suddenly agreeing on a new United Nations Security Council resolution to sanction Iran (although Susan Rice claimed during her press conference that there was no connection, I think that claim can be dismissed). Secretary of State Clinton surprised the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday by letting it be known during a hearing that a deal had been reached, and by Tuesday night, Lazy Susan Rice actually showed up at a press conference in New York to present the sanctions.

If anyone actually thought that the sanctions were going to be crippling or even biting, they were disappointed. The first hint of that came in the very first paragraph of Rice's prepared statement:
This draft seeks to support, and not replace, our efforts to engage Iran diplomatically. We have said throughout this process that the door remains open to Iran to live up to its obligations and achieve a better relationship with the international community.
It's time to close the 'engagement' door - leaving the uranium trade deal on the table since November is exactly what led to Turkey and Brazil trying to replace the superpowers. It's time to acknowledge that 'engagement' has failed. But instead, the Obama administration's battle for 'consensus' has led to sanctions so weak that they are ensured to have no effect (the full resolution as presented to the UN is here [10-page pdf]).
The proposed sanctions list includes a prohibition of sales on a wide range of conventional weapons—from fighter planes to missile systems—as well as a ban on countries from providing harbor to ships suspected of carrying contraband goods headed to Iran.

Overall they are significantly weaker than earlier drafts circulated by the administration. Many provisions contain loopholes allowing countries to evade their intent: They only urge, rather than require, countries to comply.

"We think this is a strong resolution that will substantially increase the pressure on Iran and the isolation that it feels, but it is part of a process and is not an end in itself," said a senior U.S. official involved in the negotiations.

U.S. officials acknowledged the new resolution alone was unlikely to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions; instead, they said it could lead other countries to enact their own unilateral financial sanctions that could have more bite.

The U.S. initially hoped to blacklist two of Iran's major transportation companies, the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and IranAir Cargo.

Both are alleged to play a major role in moving Iranian arms and procuring equipment for Iran's nuclear program. The current draft, however, calls for closer scrutiny of the companies' operations.

In addition, U.S. officials had initially hoped to secure an international ban on investments in certain Iranian financial instruments, like bonds, and in Iran's insurance sector.

The current draft only calls for greater scrutiny of the indemnification of companies that could be involved in Iran's weapons trade. The U.S. also backed off an earlier plan to blacklist Iran's central bank.

The resolution avoids measures against Iran's biggest economic driver, its energy industry, despite calls by some members of Congress for "crippling sanctions" aimed specifically at the sector.
If you can't read the handy summary chart below, you can find it here.

Iran brushed off the sanctions.
"The draft being discussed at the United Nations Security Council has no legitimacy at all," Iran's semi-official Fars news agency quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's senior adviser Mojtaba Samareh-Hashemi as saying.


Iranian politicians sought to reassure Iranians that any new sanctions would have no more impact than existing measures, which had failed to cripple the economy.

"Despite all the restrictions that the arrogant countries impose on Iran in the global arena, the Islamic Republic has significant successes in political and economic fields," Energy Minister Majid Namjou was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency.


Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said there was "no chance for a new resolution" to be approved at the Security Council. "Let's not take this seriously," he told reporters at a meeting in Tajikistan.
But will even these sanctions be approved? The New York Times raises doubts.
On Wednesday, however, Russia seemed to strike a more ambivalent note when Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov released a statement expressing cautious support for the draft resolution, but stressing that it is far from completion.

He said there is a “basic understanding” of the new draft, but that it must be approved by non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. If Washington and its European partners proceeded unilaterally, he said, the proposal “would go beyond decisions agreed upon by the international community and would run counter to the principle of the supremacy of international law guaranteed by the U.N. charter.”

Mr. Lavrov’s statement said he “expressed concern” over this during a conversation with Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday night, and encouraged her to re-examine Tehran’s latest proposal to “help establish a favorable atmosphere for the resumption of political and diplomatic efforts to regulate Iranian nuclear problems.”

An official in the Russian Foreign Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity under ministry rules, said Mr. Lavrov placed a call to Mrs. Clinton after learning of her announcement on Tuesday night. The official said Russia views Tehran’s proposal to enrich uranium in Turkey as very similar to a deal brokered in October by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but acknowledged that Washington is skeptical.

“Our position is, give them another chance,” the Russian official said. “We should take into account this demonstration of readiness by Iran.”
And as to China, the US may need to pay up front (by convincing South Korea and Japan to stand down from North Korea and China) to get Chinese support.
Noting that Clinton departs later this month for a trip to China, South Korea and Japan, Smith suggested that the Chinese might be willing to handle the Iran issue at the U.N., if the U.S. is willing to handle the sinking of the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, at the regional level without elevating it to the U.N.

South Korea will formally blame North Korea for launching a torpedo that sank the naval ship in March, killing 46 South Korean sailors, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

“My sense is that the U.S., Japan and South Korea will seek to work at the trilateral level on this, so as to allow the Iran debate to move forward” at the U.N., Smith told POLITICO. “Beijing’s role here is key. South Koreans are already deeply angry at what they perceive as Chinese indifference to the North Korean behavior and the loss of South Korean lives. The intersection of these two issues on Secretary Clinton’s trip is vitally important, and this announcement today suggests to me that she will pursue the Iran discussion at the U.N., while managing the response to what is likely to be declared as North Korean aggression” at the regional level.
At the end of the day, the sanctions are likely to pass, because none of the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council wants to be pre-empted in international affairs by Brazil and Turkey. Will Brazil and Turkey go along? Will the rest of the Security Council? Here's something to think about: Guess who chairs the Security Council in June and therefore controls the agenda....

You guessed it. Turkey.


According to this site, Mexico chairs the Security Council in June and Turkey doesn't chair it until September. Nigeria chairs in July and Russia in August.


At 12:10 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Nothing is going to happen on the sanctions front. The proposed sanctions are so weak as to be practically irrelevant.

And Israel will soon have a decision to make.


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