Toothless Sanctions on Iran, Part 47

As Iran heads towards becoming a nuclear state, the United Nations has passed a new round of sanctions after a year of U.S. attempts to engage Iran -- with nothing to show for it. Unfortunately, little has been achieved with all the time spent trying to make the UN implement tough measures. The Iranian regime is dismissive, with Ahmadinejad saying they “should be thrown into the trash bin like a used tissue,” and comparing them to “annoying flies.” The U.S. and its few allies willing to confront Iran must now decide whether to act outside the UN or to accept a nuclear Iran.

The sanctions resolution sounds tough on the surface. It calls on the international community to sanction 40 more Iranian entities, 22 of which are connected to the nuclear and ballistic missile programs and 15 of which are part of the Revolutionary Guard. Three are part of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, which is connected to both. The head of the Esfahan Nuclear Technology Center, a key nuclear site, had his assets frozen and was hit with a travel ban.

The resolution requests the inspection of ships suspected of carrying technology related to those programs, as has been done with North Korea. It also bans the sale of eight types of conventional weapons to Iran, including missiles, tanks, warships, some artillery systems, and attack helicopters.

These sound like tough measures, but in practice, they don’t make much of a difference. Ken Timmerman, best-selling author of Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran and executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, tells PJM:

The latest round of UN sanctions are seriously flawed because they contain no enforcement mechanism, and because they do nothing to restrict Iran’s access to international capital for its oil and gas industry.

The resolution urges, but does not force, members of the UN to engage in the inspection of possible WMD-related cargo ships. Member states are required to place sanctions on Iranian entities that are “proliferation sensitive.” However, this gives countries that are reluctant to act plenty of room to demand unreasonably high standards of proof, and they are technically not required to do anything.

The U.S. went to great lengths to win Russian support for the resolution. Sanctions on four Russian entities known to have been connected to Iran’s nuclear program and arms sales to Syria were lifted. Two of the organizations had originally been listed by the Clinton administration in early 1999. The sanctions were also watered down, and do not take advantage of Iran’s reliance upon imports of petroleum-based products -- gasoline in particular. Iran’s oil exports, which account for 90 percent of the regime’s foreign income and 60 percent of its state budget, are unaffected.