The European Union’s foreign ministers are slated to convene on Monday in Luxembourg to rubber-stamp a new round of energy sanctions on Iran’s vulnerable gas, financial and shipping sectors.
While the sanctions are welcomed by Mideast experts in Israel, Europe and the US, there is increasing worry that the international community, particularly the Europeans, needs to inflict more economic pain on Iran’s clerical rulers to stop their nuclear weapons program.
Speaking from the Netherlands with The Jerusalem Post via telephone on Saturday, Wim Kortenoeven, a former Dutch MP and leading European expert on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, said that “if the Europeans want to avoid war, there is a need for more than half-measures.”
The EU member states plan to ban imports of natural gas from Iran and the export of metals such as aluminum and graphites to Tehran. European diplomats said nautical equipment and the extension of short-term trade guarantees will be outlawed. In addition, the EU plans to bar European companies from building oil tankers for Iran.
The new bank sanctions might very well cause the most damage to Iran’s shaky economy, which saw a 40 percent drop in its currency – the rial – earlier this month.
Additional Iranian energy and financial companies will be covered by the new EU sanctions.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the sanctions will turn the financial screws on bank transactions: “The level of the threshold will depend on the sector, with humanitarian trade in food and medicines having a ceiling of 100,000 euros. But for many other items, any transaction over 10,000 euros with an Iranian bank will need preapproval.”
For Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Washington- based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, there is a race against the Iranian nuclear weapons clock.
“Iranian nuclear physics is beating Western economic pressure as Iran advances its nuclear weapons capacity, while using its foreign exchange reserves and still sizable oil earnings to head off economic collapse,” Dubowitz told the Post on Saturday via email. “Europe remains key if the West has any chance of ensuring that the economic cripple date occurs before the nuclear threshold date.
“The billions of euros in EU exports, particular the sophisticated machinery, industrial equipment and technology that Iran needs to run its economy, must be significantly and rapidly reduced,” he said.
Dubowitz, a leading expert on international sanctions and Iran’s economy, added, “If the latest EU measures force an import and balance of payments crisis that brings Iran’s economy to the brink of collapse, we may soon have our answer to the question of whether severe economic pressure can break the regime’s nuclear will. If EU sanctions, however, are riddled with loopholes in design and half-measures in implementation, the regime soon will be a threshold nuclear power, by which time it will be too late to peacefully resolve this crisis.”
Tommy Steiner, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, told the Post on Saturday, “The new package of sanctions on Iran is yet another step in the right direction, but it is far from clear that sanctions alone will compel Iran to renounce its nuclear program. The time has come for the EU not only to match US sanctions but also American declaratory policy on Iran – that is to say, the EU should announce that it will not accept a nuclear Iran, and it will use all measures within its power to this end.”
Kortenoeven, meanwhile, said the EU sanctions “are too little and too late.” Though he criticized the efficacy of the new round of EU penalties, he said he was “still in favor” of the sanctions and that the EU “needs to take the whole financial section, including the Central Bank of Iran,” out of service.
Kortenoeven proposed that the EU issue Tehran a ultimatum by notifying the Iranians that they have three months to stop their nuclear enrichment program.
If Iran’s leaders do not cease their nuclear work, the EU should prevent Iran from receiving payments for oil and other financial services, he said – terming the approach “strangling sanctions.”
The Post conducted a telephone interview with Josh Block, a former Clinton administration official recently named CEO of The Israel Project – an American pro-Israel organization based in Washington. He said that “Iran’s effort to arm and help [Syrian President Bashar] Assad as he murders his people is a reminder just how much more dangerous the world would be if Tehran – whose support for global terror, actions to dominate the Mideast, and human rights repression of their own people knows no bounds – were to obtain nuclear weapons capability.”
Block, who has sharply criticized the Swiss government for failing to fully adopt EU sanctions, added, “The EU knows that the danger posed today to freedom and security would be dramatically worse if the conventional threats from Iran were nuclear threats, and these new sanctions are sorely needed, if late in coming. All sanctions on Iran must be fully enforced... to completely isolate the regime and bring their economy to a halt.”
The potent effect of economic sanctions from Europe did not escape the notice of The Boston Globe’s foreign policy columnist. Writing in the paper on Thursday, Juliette Kayyem argued that the riots in Iran because of the currency meltdown were a product of the “sanctions begun by the Bush administration and expanded by the Obama administration.”
Her column titled “The toughest sanctions” noted the globalization of the economic sanctions seeking to influence a change in Iran’s behavior. She cited the example of the Dutch maritime firm Maersk – the world’s largest shipping container companies – in pulling the plug on its cargo deliveries to Iran’s southern port of Bushehr.
While deeming Maersk’s move as “not a victory to cheer about [as] Iranians will suffer,” she raised the question of “whether the Iranian regime will respond by agreeing to stop enriching uranium.”
However, a growing body of testimonials suggest that ordinary Iranians understand that regime is to blame for sanctions.
While writing a series of commentaries in The New York Times on his visit to Iran this year, columnist Nicholas Kristof cited an unemployed salesman as saying, “We blame our regime, not Western countries.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledged that the “currency fluctuations” were caused by “psychological pressure” from outside.
In short, the sanctions are disrupting the regime’s management of the economy, sending Iran’s market into a tizzy, and possibly laying the foundation for a second act by the Iranian Green Movement. All of this suggests that the only cure for remedying the Iranian nuclear crisis and jump-starting its struggling democracy movement is even more powerful economic sanctions.
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The writer is a European affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.