Former officials to Obama: Rethink Iran sanctions

'NY Times' quotes ex-US officials as saying: Sanctions hurting Iran more than advancing progress on thwarting nuclear enrichment.

Ahmadinejad at Natanz (R) 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ahmadinejad at Natanz (R) 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A panel of former senior US officials and outside experts pressed US President Barack Obama to reconsider the country's sanctions policy in efforts toward halting Tehran's nuclear program, and to become more involved in American diplomacy towards Iran, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
In a report issued by the Iran Project, the group suggested the sanctions policy may be backfiring and has “contributed to an increase in repression and corruption within Iran." Sanctions “may be sowing the seeds of long-term alienation between the Iranian people and the United States,” the diplomats and experts wrote.
The report alleged that, among the abundance of evidence that sanctions are hurting Iran there is little to suggest that they are curbing progress of the country's nuclear program. However, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted earlier in the week in support of increasing sanctions, if deemed necessary.
In contrast to sanctions that have devalued Iranian currency and increased inflation in the country, Congress and Israel have urged Obama to place a strict time limit on negotiations.
“I fundamentally believe that the balance between sanctions and diplomacy has been misaligned,” the report quoted Thomas R. Pickering, a past high-ranking State Department career diplomat, as saying. Pickering was also reported as advising the Obama administration to avoid "peripheral" actions against Iran, such as covert sabotage of computers at Iranian nuclear facilities.
According to the Times, Jen Psaki, a US State Department spokeswoman stated that the administration would proceed with its approach and the sanctions it has implemented bolster diplomacy. 
“[A] dual track approach of rigorous sanctions and serious negotiations is the right approach. However, the onus is on Iran to take the next steps and move the process forward,” she said. 
Talks between Iran and world powers this month failed to yield a diplomatic breakthrough, and the United States and Israel, widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, have not ruled out military action to prevent Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons.
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Isrel has contended that the lack of progress from recent meetings is part of an Iranian initiative to stall for time in order to expand nuclear enrichment capabilities amid wavering talks.
The Times report comes amid calls from diplomats earlier in the week that Iran is increasing the number of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges installed at its Natanz underground plant, despite tightening international sanctions aimed at stopping Tehran's nuclear progress.
Iran announced early last month that it would build about 3,000 advanced centrifuges. But experts and diplomats said it was unclear whether it had the capability and materials needed to make so many, and also to run them smoothly.
Although still far from the target number, one diplomatic source estimated that roughly 500-600 so-called IR-2m centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings had now been put in place at the Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.
That compares with 180 two months ago, according to the UN nuclear watchdog's latest report on Iran, issued in February. At the same time, Iran had more than 12,000 old-generation centrifuges installed at Natanz, but not all were enriching.