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.

One area the resolution has been successful in is compelling Russia to not deliver the advanced S-300 air defense system to Iran, which would severely complicate any aerial attack. There was originally much confusion about this -- it was reported that Russians had agreed not to sell the S-300, but then the foreign minister said that the sanctions did not apply to the system.

This position has been reversed. An anonymous Kremlin official has said that the sanctions do apply to the S-300, and Prime Minister Putin has reportedly told French President Sarkozy that the sale has been frozen. This appears to be an accurate report, as the Iranian regime is furious, saying Russia is required by contract to deliver the S-300, which would make Iran “invincible” to an Israeli attack. Timmerman says:

Russia went along because these sanctions came at no cost to Russia. Without serious multilateral efforts to craft an effective cargo inspection regime, or to curtail investment and supplies to Iran’s oil and gas industry, Iran will be a nuclear power by the end of the year.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former KGB officer, told PJM that he doesn’t believe the sanctions will stop further cooperation between Russia and Iran:

These sanctions seem to be aimed at deceiving America and not at damaging Iran at all.

Russia may have felt that freezing the delivery of the S-300 was a worthy concession in return for winning immunity from further U.S. sanctions aimed at Iran. Congress is moving forward on placing tougher sanctions on Iran, aware that the latest round of UN measures is inadequate. However, President Obama wants a stipulation: he wants the authority to block sanctions on entities in foreign countries that have cooperated in pressuring Iran, which would certainly exempt Russia from suffering.

Already, the Russians may be preparing to come to Iran’s rescue. The European Union has hit Iran with its own sanctions, banning companies from becoming involved in their oil and gas industries, and they are working on new sanctions targeting the Revolutionary Guard. The U.S., South Korea, Japan, and Australia will soon follow suit. Russia has reacted by saying they are “extremely disappointed,” and will reassess “work in these formats.”

The Obama administration knows that the current sanctions will fail to stop a nuclear-armed Iran from becoming a reality. They have drafted a Plan B, C, and D, which include covert operations aimed at promoting the defection of Iranian scientists and a containment strategy. Noticeably absent is the most bold but efficient option of vigorously supporting the Iranian opposition.

The Obama administration still does not believe that regime change is a viable solution, and that, more than any other reason, is why Iran will have a nuclear arsenal or the ability to quickly create one in the near future.

This article was sponsored by Stand Up America.