The heads of the US State and Treasury Departments
jointly announced new sanctions aimed at the further economic isolation of Iran
Thursday, citing the Islamic Republic's defiance on its continued nuclear program
and its alleged involvement with terrorist organizations.
The George W. Bush administration's announcement comes at a time of heightened
tensions with the Iranian regime, and an increased ratcheting up of rhetoric
"The United States is pursuing a comprehensive policy to confront the
threatening behavior of the Iranian government," said Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice on Thursday in a press conference with Treasury Secretary Henry
Paulson. "Today Secretary Paulson and I are announcing several new steps
to increase the costs to Iran of its irresponsible behavior"
Rice and Paulson named three large Iranian banks as well as the Iranian Revolutionary
Guard – the largest and most powerful segment of Iran's military –
as specific backers of both terrorism and a nuclear program that could yield
the capability for nuclear weapons.
"The Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations,
instead threatening peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that
can lead to a nuclear weapon, building dangerous ballistic missiles, supporting
Shi'ite militants in Iraq and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the
Palestinian territories," said Rice in her remarks.
US President Jimmy Carter put the current sanctions program against Iran in
place in 1979 when students occupied the US embassy in the country's capital,
Tehran, amid rumors that the embassy would be used as a staging ground for a
counter-coup to reinstall the shah in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic
Revolution. Since that time, the sanctions have grown more rigid and been codified
in law by the Congress.
The newly imposed restrictions are unilateral extraterritorial sanctions that
prevent businesses and other groups both within and outside the US – but
that do work within the US – from dealing with individuals who are part
of any of the banks, military forces, and other organizations in Iran that were
Extraterritorial sanctions have had their legality challenged in courts and
are often overturned because they conflict with the sovereignty of other countries.
As a result, the new sanctions promise to further endanger already strained
relations with US allies.
Though Rice twice stated, "the United States is fully committed to a diplomatic
solution with Iran," many critics point out that these sanctions will do
just the opposite.
"The Bush administration is framing this as a diplomatic initiative,"
William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and the co-chair
of USA*Engage, said in a statement. "In fact, they are sanctions intended
to punish Iran, though their primary effect may well be on companies in third
countries. As a result they are unlikely to lead to a positive diplomatic outcome."
USA*Engage is a coalition of businesses that opposes unilateral sanctions on
the basis of their costs to the US economy.
The administration's announcement comes on the heels of President Bush's comments
last week implying that Iran getting nuclear weapons could lead to "World
War III," and Vice President Dick Cheney's hawkish speech on Sunday where
he said that "the international community is prepared to impose serious
consequences" if Iran does not comply with demands, leading many critics
to speculate that the new sanctions are part of a wider relations scheme steering
the US towards war with Iran.
"The US is focused way too much on sticks and not on carrots in Iran,"
said Jim Cason of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a peace lobby
in Washington. "More threats from the US have always led to more threats
from Iran. So these sanctions will affect Iranian policy, but they will push
A particular problem with the policy is its sweeping targeting of anyone or
any organization involved with Iran's wide-reaching Revolutionary Guard (IRGC).
The Guard, established for national security purposes shortly after the overthrow
of the shah in 1979, is believed to be around 100,000 strong, and is intimately
tied to both Iran's government and much of its economic activity.
"The IRGC is so deeply entrenched in Iran's economy and commercial enterprises,
it is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran, you are
doing business with the IRGC," said Secretary Paulson, implying that the
US knows that the sanctions will hurt the broader Iranian economy.
The new specific sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard will also close
many channels to the highest level of the Iranian government. Cason commented
that "half of the current cabinet, and 30 percent of the parliament"
in Iran are tied to the Guard.
With the policy nakedly aimed at broad-based isolation, there is concern that
the sanctions will also help to turn the somewhat sympathetic Iranian public
against the US
"Iranians watch TV, they are on the internet," said Cason. "If
I was sitting in Iran and saw this I would not take what you say about diplomatic
solutions very seriously. Good people in both the US and Iran trying to promote
dialogue are being undermined by these sweeping sanctions."
At the end of her comments, Rice spoke directly to the Iranian people, saying:
"We in the United States have no conflict with you. We want you to have
every opportunity to develop and prosper in dignity, including the peaceful
use of nuclear power."
But these comments are also viewed with suspicion in light of last month's
remarks by the International Atomic Energy Agency's director general, Dr. Mohamed
ElBaradei, where he said that "Iran has provided the Agency with additional
information and access needed to resolve a number of long outstanding issues"
and called for further engagement and investigation into the nuclear program
"What the US is saying is that we need to have an agreement, and then
we can talk," noted Cason. "But that is not how negotiations work.
You talk first, and then you come out with an agreement."
(Inter Press Service)