News / Middle East

    Experts: Tightening Iran Sanctions Hurts Ordinary Iranians

    Iran is hosting a summit for dozens of nations in the Non-Aligned Movement, while some of those countries are complying with U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear program.  Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes. 

    Tehran's refusal to address international concerns about its atomic ambitions has forced the United States and the United Nations to tighten sanctions on Iran.  U.S. authorities are investigating the Royal Bank of Scotland and Germany's second-biggest lender, Commerzbank, in an effort that already has led to large fines for others caught doing business with Iran.

    Effects of sanctions

    Iran's economy has suffered greatly from the sanctions, according to David Tafuri, a partner at the Washington D.C.-based law firm Patton Boggs, which is active in Middle East development.

    "It's certainly made it difficult for Iran to sell oil, which is the main source of funds for Iran," he said.  "So Iran needs money, not just to keep the economy going, but to continue these weapons programs."

    But Jamal Abdi, policy director of the National Iranian American Council, says U.S. policy toward Iran is doing more harm than good.

    "We've gone from a policy that was supposed to be smart sanctions or targeted sanctions instead to ones that are designed to cripple the entire Iranian economy, and this is a counterproductive approach," he said.  "This hurts ordinary people. It obstructs rather than facilitates diplomacy.  And at the end of the day, I think it's going to put us on a collision course for a military confrontation with Iran."

    So what do ordinary Iranians think?

    "A lot of people see the reason behind the sanctions, which is the nuclear crisis, but they don't see that.  A lot of people don't see that connected to their daily lives," said Negar Mortazavi, host of VOA Persian News Network's "Straight Talk" program.  "But they see sanctions connected to their daily lives."

    Mortazavi says people call in to her program to complain about rising food prices.

    One viewer shows how the price of milk increased by 14 percent in only four days. Another viewer submitted a satirical picture of a "chicken tea bag," mocking how chicken is so expensive that the same bird has to be used to prepare several meals.

    "It's an unfortunate by-product of sanctions.  And really, oftentimes it's the people who don't support the regime in these countries that are hurt the most by the sanctions, which is very sad and unfortunate," said David Tafuri.  "But sanctions, by their nature, have to be universal and comprehensive.  You can't really make exceptions."

    Many experts say that relying on international sanctions to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons will be a difficult and lengthy process.

    "I just hope this process of building leverage, we can actually use that leverage before it reaches a breaking point," Jamal Abdi said.

    And Tafuri, Abdi, and other experts say the possibility of a military confrontation could increase as the impasse over Iran's nuclear program continues. 

    VOA Persian News Network's Negar Mortazavi contributed to this report.

    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

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