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Analysts: Iran May Face Further Unilateral Sanctions

  • Gary Thomas

Under American prodding, the U.N. Security Council has passed new sanctions on Iran for its nuclear ambitions. However, the sanctions are not nearly as tough as the U.S. would have liked. It is not yet clear if the U.N. move will blunt calls for harsher sanctions by individual nations.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice says the new sanctions are tough.

"This resolution is strong, it's tough and it's comprehensive," said Susan Rice. "And it is something that Iran fought very hard to prevent passage today. The effort, the time, the money, and the ploys that they employed to try to prevent this resolution's passage only underscores their understanding that this is a major blow."

But international trade attorney Richard Burke of the global law firm White and Case says the new sanctions will not disrupt much Iranian trade, and adds that Iran in any event has shown itself adept at circumventing sanctions.

"Really, Iran basically can continue normal commercial activities with most countries in the world except for the United States," said Richard Burke. "If the intent of sanctions is to inflict economic pain on a country - Iran in this case - to make it change its political behavior, under this sanctions regime I don't think that you're really close to that situation."

Former Energy Department intelligence chief Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who also monitored nuclear programs when at the CIA, believes the sanctions will hurt Iran, but they will not slow down its nuclear progress or bring Iran to the negotiating table. In fact, he says, they may have the opposite effect.

"I don't think that people are deluding themselves that Iran is going to come to the table and say on this, 'okay, now that we're suffering sanctions we're going to negotiate on a different basis' or acknowledge that a weapons program exists that they've been vehemently denying they're engaged in," said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. "So, in that kind of practical way I'm afraid it might even strengthen their resolve, particularly domestically, to continue because they in essence have to."

Analysts say the U.S. needed to make compromises with veto-wielding Security Council members China and Russia to get their support, which ended up diluting the sanctions. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, now at Harvard University, says this latest resolution is probably as far as the U.N. is willing to go in sanctioning Iran.

"This may be some sort of peak or apex of the, say, global coalition to do this," he said. "You have now for the first time really the Brazilians and the Turks have voted against. That's a bad, a worrisome sign of fraying resolve by key countries. I'm not sure we can go much further. I think the most significant development which we all need to watch closely is the, say, additional green light now for states to go out and do more on their own."

Attorney Richard Burke believes part of the original reason the Obama administration sought U.N. sanctions was to slow down the drive for tougher new unilateral sanctions.

"I think initially part of the motivation for the United States to push for enhanced U.N. sanctions was in part to blunt the increasing pressure in the U.S. Congress for enhanced unilateral sanctions," he said. "That said, I think that even the president in his announcement and others in his administration have noted that the fact that Security Council has now approved these additional U.N. sanctions provides somewhat of a green light for the United States and perhaps other countries to perhaps increase their own unilateral sanctions."

A new sanctions bill that targets companies that provide Iran with refined petroleum products like gasoline was passed by both houses of Congress in March but is still in conference committee for the House and Senate to reconcile the two versions. Such a measure, say analysts, would severely harm Iran. Although Iran is a major oil producer, it lacks refining capability and must send petroleum out of the country and import back gasoline.

The sponsor of the bill, Democratic Representative Howard Berman of California, praised the U.N. sanctions, and called on other nations including those of the European Union to enact their own unilateral sanctions. He said Congress will enact final sanctions legislation later in June.

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