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Iran Sanctions: The Road does not Inspire Confidence

Reacting to the 15- member UN security council’s decision ( June,09) to impose stronger sanctions on Iran for its failure to comply with the IAEA guidelines and questions on its nuclear weapons programme, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described it as a used “handkerchief” to be consigned to the dustbin.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is known for this rhetorics and hence his caustic remark does not surprise anyone. But the question is how much of the Iranian President’s statement is correct, and what are the implications of the sanctions beyond the Iranian nuclear issue.

The sanctions cover more than three dozen Iranian companies with specific emphasis on commercial assets of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the mainstay of the Iranian regime. The assets of these companies abroad will be frozen, and Iranian ships could be subjected to onboard inspection in high seas for carrying restricted material. Some Chinese front companies in the US have been charged with illegal procurement of prohibited material and on behalf of Iran. The sanctions call for prohibition of missile and missile technology has also stopped Russia’s proposed sale of S-300 air defence missiles to Iran.

According to some estimates, the economic cost for Iran could be up to 20 per cent. It will cost jobs, exports and imports. They will also squeeze Iran’s efforts to procure clandestinely foreign technology, both military and dual use. Even import of conventional arms and military equipment are likely to be targeted.

The Iranian leadership is, however, not giving much importance to these restrictions, at least openly. Doing so will be self-defeating and losing pride. After decades of acquiring technology from abroad by various means, Tehran has demonstrated recently that they had indigenous capability to produce medium range missiles, and were testing booster rockets for satellites.

Iranian scientists and engineers have been spotted for years working in facilities in China, and their travel from China to North Korea have also been well documented by agencies of different countries. The west, especially the USA, fought shy of raising these issues as China was involved. It may be recalled that US President George Bush Sr. refused to make a determination on Chinese transfer of M-II nuclear capable missiles to Pakistan in 1991-92, although the CIA and Defence Intelligence had “Smoking gun” evidence.

The US turned a blind eye when China helped make Pakistan a nuclear weapons country with adequate delivery systems. Pakistan’s nuclear arming was against India and, hence, of no consequence to the US at that time. But Iran has become a different question as it threatens Israel. Nobody wants a nuclear weapon equipped Iran, and that was what brought consensus among the five permanent members of the UNSC. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asserted last year that the new sanctions would be crippling for Iran. But the new sanctions fell far short of the objective. To get the Permanent-5 together on one platform Washington had to make several concessions, and lost face.

Initially, the US had targeted Iran’s oil and gas sectors, the country’s life line. This would have brought the country down on its knees. One of the first casualties in such an embargo would be the peace and stability in the region. Iran would have set a devastating fire of conflict in the region, and as they went down they would take some with them, especially Israel.

The international community would have nothing of the sort. The consequences would be unimaginable.

In the days leading up to June 9, Russia and China worked to dilute the original US draft resolution. Russia has both political and strategic interests in Iran, and is trying to get back the Soviet era influence in the region. The sanctions do not impact Moscow’s setting up the Bushehr nuclear energy plant in Iran.

China has poured billions of dollars in Iran’s oil and gas sectors. Most of China’s hydrocarbon energy imports from the region, which is 70 percent of its energy import, come from Iran. It has also invested substantially in the Myanmar-China oil and gas pipe lines to bring these imports avoiding the longer route of Malacca Strait and South China Sea. Beijing’s energy thirst is growing exponentially, and any drop in supplies will severely impact China’s development.

Despite recent rough weather in US-China relation in trade and military contacts, Washington cannot push China any further on the Iran nuclear issue.

As a consequence, the Iran-Pakistan oil pipeline project remains unaffected. This would relieve India of any pressure on its energy co-operation with Iran.

Despite Iranian warning to Russia and China of possible consequences for their votes in the sanctions, Tehran has little option left but to fall in line with friends who have been their supporters. Neither Russia nor China will condone an Iranian secret nuclear programme. Both countries have made it clear that the intention was to bring Iran back to the dialogue table.

The Chinese official newspaper, The Global Times, giving the Chinese view (June 10), made it clear that China is against any nuclear weapons proliferation, it supports Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme, but strongly opposes the issue being used to “topple the Iranian government”. China still stands by dialogue to resolve the issue. But it held the sanctions were inevitable to force Iran come clean on its nuclear intentions and return to the dialogue table.

The Chinese position also takes into account Iran’s predicament of being surrounded by hostility. It feels it will be difficult to persuade Iran to give up nuclear weapons because of the hostile situation surrounding Iran.

The Chinese position clearly puts the finger on Israeli threats to take out Iran’s nuclear sites. What compounds the concerns are media leaks emanating from the region that Saudi Arabia may be considering allowing Iranian aircraft to refuel in its territory to attack Israel’s nuclear facilities.

There are some vital questions to consider here. One is the alleged plan involving Iran assisted by Riyadh to take out Israel’s nuclear establishment. The other is the US contingency plan to attack Iran to bring about a regime change. Both have disastrous consequences written in bold letters.

The Iraq example cannot be replicated here. The Saddam Husssein regime was attacked after years of persuasion convincing Saddam to give up his nuclear, biological and missile weapons. Only when Baghdad disarmed itself on faith, that intelligence was concocted to mislead the UN to attack Iraq. The prize was Iraq’s oil wealth.

Iran has the world’s largest known oil reserves. The Iraq lesson has been learnt by both North Korea and Iran. Neither country will give up its defence on any ground and persuasion. Unfortunately, the Iraq experience made Pyongyang accelerate its nuclear weapons programme.

Iran will not be as easy a target as Iraq. An attack on Iran can ignite the region. Tehran will have to be assured of its security. That means, Israel will have to disarm its ambiguous nuclear capability which is no longer “ambiguous”. That is unlikely to happen.

In parallel, Iran’s friends like China and Russia must persuade it to pull back from its support to the Hamas and accept Israel as a legal state. This is more doable, but not easy unless Tehran is convinced of its security and lifting of sanctions.

An important issue that may seem apparently remote from the Iranian nuclear issue but falls within US compromises to bring China to the table, is nuclear proliferation. The US was quiet on China’s agreement to supply two more nuclear reactors to Pakistan. It is well known that China is assisting Pakistan on its Chashma-III and IV nuclear plants and the Kushab series of reactors for weapons.

But allowing China to openly supply nuclear reactor to Pakistan circumvents the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guide lines. There is an argument coming out of American think tanks that if India, as a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was allowed by the NSG to access foreign nuclear technology, why should Pakistan which has the same status be excluded. Taking all the issues in consideration, Washington has now declared the Sino-Pak nuclear deal will have to go through the NSG. But how the US positions itself at the NSG is moot.

The fact is that India, which has no record of proliferation, had to run the gauntlet to this status. Pakistan’s proliferation record, some with Chinese assistance, is well known and needs no elaboration. The connection of some top Pakistani nuclear scientists including Dr. A.Q. Khan with the Al Qaida and Taliban has been revealed for many years. Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, brokered the contracts. Very recent reports elaborate the ISI’s role in cooperating with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

For the USA, the Iran sanctions became an issue of national prestige for the Obama administration, and especially for Secretary Hillary Clinton. In reality, however, very little has been achieved. On the other hand, the compromise made may have opened a Pandora’s Box where nuclear non-proliferation is concerned. The world may become a less safer “place than it was, as more countries could expand on these new positions”.

Here is the piece de resistance.

Journalist Judith Apter Klinghoffer has highlighted a series of reports put together by Esan al Amin the unbelievable design of Barack Obama that resulted in the May 17 Tehran declaration (brokered by Brazil and Turkey with Iran) and its demise. Obama wrote the structure that Iran should commit to for easing the situation and wrote separate letters to Brazilian President Lula Da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyib Erdogan.

Essentially, Obama pushed the IAEA formula that Iran should park its 1,200 Kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) to a third country, preferably Turkey, and the international community would supply Iran with 120 Kg of 20 percent enriched uranium for its medical research reactor. The binding clause was that Iran must give the IAEA in writing its acceptance.

Whether the Americans had expected a rejection from Iran to strengthen their position on sanction or not, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreed, and wrote to the IAEA in a week.

To Brazil’s and Turkey’s surprise the US State Department rejected the agreement outright, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it a “ploy”.

No wonder Ahmadinejad dubbed the sanctions as a dirty tissue. Was Israel successful in putting so much pressure on Obama that the US President decided to eat his own words on the international platform? Unlikely.

Obviously, Iran now holds the high moral ground. The US action is nothing short of bizarre. Both Russia and China will make their own deals with Iran separately in due course. Is this a good-bye to non-proliferation?

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent analyst with many years of experience in political analysis. Email:

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