WASHINGTON – The US congressman who authored sanctions legislation against Iran warned Tuesday that the measure has only months to prove effective.

“We’re talking months, not years,” said Howard Berman (D-California), chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It’s in a matter of months... that we have to start seeing this working before people lose faith in this.”

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Israel has been worried the US will allow the process of sanctions to drag out long enough for Iran to build – or at least dramatically improve its ability to build – a nuclear weapon.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was in Washington Monday, has been urging the Obama administration to impose a short timeframe on sanctions against Iran since Congress, the UN, EU and other countries passed sanctions measures this summer.

Berman, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies luncheon sponsored by the United Arab Emirates embassy, also said that the sanctions had to be enforced to be taken seriously. In the past US sanctions against offending companies have been waived, and he warned against repeating such an approach.


In an apparent appeal to the Obama administration – which is responsible for implementing the sanctions – Berman declared that it was “essential that investigations begin.”

He cautioned that “a sanctions regime that doesn’t lead to sanctions will soon lose whatever deterrent effect it’s had.”

Though Berman noted that Iran has not yet changed its behavior concerning its nuclear program – the ultimate goal of the sanctions – he did praise the businesses that have independently decided to break their ties with Iran because of the threat of sanctions.

His message was an echo of that relayed by US Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey, who in a separate address to CSIS Monday stressed the success sanctions are already having.

“The financial measures the US and others are implementing are imposing serious costs and constraints on Iran,” Levey said. “We believe Iran’s leadership was caught off guard by the speed, intensity and scope of the new measures.”

He continued, “Even at this early stage, as pressure is mounting, the strategy is beginning to give us the leverage we seek. This is already working.”

Levey spoke of Iran’s growing international isolation, its trouble accessing world financial markets and getting the technology it needs to sustain its energy sector.

A significant effect of theses struggles, he maintained, is that “the regime is quite worried about the impact of these measures.”

Specifically, Levey said, “As pressure increases, so has internal criticism of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and others for failing to prepare adequately for international sanctions.”

Still, some experts warn that even if sanctions mean Iran is feeling a financial pinch, this doesn’t mean the regime will abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“The calculations of Iran’s principal protagonists – Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – are largely unaffected by mounting financial penalties imposed by the West,” Ray Takeyh, a former State Department adviser on Iran, wrote in The Washington Post Sunday.

“After three decades of wrestling with the Islamic Republic, Washington and its allies still fail to realize that they are not dealing with a conventional nation-state making subtle estimates of national interests,” Takeyh said.

Berman pointed out at Tuesday’s luncheon that “no one expected a day after the UN acted and we acted and the others acted Iran would be shouting uncle or let’s come to the table.”

But he acknowledged that ultimately, “I don’t know whether this strategy is going to produce the result [we seek].”

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