Pressuring Iran

"Islamic Republic is paying an increasingly high price for its stubborn insistence on developing nuclear weapons."

January 24, 2012 23:04
3 minute read.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton 311 (R). (photo credit: Francois Lenoir / Reuters)


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The Islamic Republic is paying an increasingly high price for its stubborn insistence on developing nuclear weapons. By July 1, the European Union will phase out its oil purchases from Iran, which make up about of fifth of Iran’s total oil exports. Italy alone accounts for 10 percent of Iran’s oil exports, according to 2010 data provided by the US Energy Information Administration.

The impact of the EU decision – which includes a freeze on the assets of the Iranian central bank within the EU – was almost immediate: The Iranian currency, the rial, fell to record lows in black market trading against the dollar and there has been a surge in the prices paid by Iranians for basic goods.

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Even before the new set of sanctions, Iran was hurting. In December, Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Qalebani was quoted by the Iranian Students News Agency as saying the country’s crude oil production in 2011 had declined from the year before, “due to lack of investment in oil field development.”

Iran produced about 4 million barrels a day of oil in 2010 and is producing about 3.5 million barrels this year. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying, “We cannot pretend the sanctions are not having an effect,” and the governor of Iran’s central bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, told reporters in Iran last week that the country must act as if it were “under siege.”

Obviously, Israel has a vested interest in seeing Iran’s mullahs prevented from achieving nuclear capability. But nonproliferation in the region is not solely or even principally an Israeli interest.

The EU and the US – led by policy-makers who cannot be suspected of holding neoconservative notions – have adopted equally stringent sanctions against Iran. This reflects the consensus that Tehran’s intentions with regard to its nuclear program are not, as it claims, peaceful.

Recent comments by Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, point clearly to Iran’s intention to develop weapons of mass destruction. Researchers from the Center for American Progress and Media Matters, two institutions affiliated with the Democratic Party, who have tried to make the case that Iran’s belligerence and its level of nuclear sophistication are overstated in a pre-Iraq invasion-like way, have thankfully failed to make inroads among Congress members.


The Europeans, perhaps even more than the Americans, are directly threatened by a nuclear-capable Iran with missiles that can reach European cities. Even China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, who during a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, defended his country’s oil trade with Iran, nevertheless noted his country’s opposition to Iran achieving nuclear weapons. Without a bomb, Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz rattled the Chinese. They do not want to imagine such a threat issued by an Islamic Republic with nuclear warheads.

Without nuclear weapons, Tehran’s ability to bully Gulf state neighbors is limited. Despite Iranian threats, Saudi Arabia has said it has enough oil output capacity to meet global customers’ needs, House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor said after several days of meetings in the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are, apparently, willing to make up for banned Iranian oil in order to meet European and American needs, thus minimizing the inevitable rise in oil prices expected to follow from the sanctions.

As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu noted, the latest round of sanctions are indeed a “step in the right direction,” making it increasingly expensive for Iran to continue with its nuclear program. Coupled with continued covert operations such as the assassination of nuclear scientists and cyber war attacks such as the Stuxnet, we hope that these sanctions will make a full-blown military attack on Iran unnecessary.

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