Sanctions make nuclear accord
'unlikely' By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Iran is unlikely to agree to
curb its nuclear program unless the US and its
Western allies are prepared to ease tough economic
sanctions imposed against the Islamic Republic
over the past decade, according to a major new
report signed by more than three dozen former top
US foreign-policy makers, military officers, and
sanctions "may well help bring Iran to the
negotiating table, it is not clear that these
sanctions alone will result in agreements or
changes in Iranian policies, much less changes in
Iran's leadership," the report, "Weighing Benefits
and Costs of International Sanctions Against
"If Iran were to signal
its willingness to modify its nuclear program and
to cooperate in verifying those modifications, Iranian
expect the United States and its allies, in turn,
to offer a plan for easing some of the sanctions,"
according to the 86-page report.
"(a)bsent a calibrated, positive response from the
West, Iran's leaders would have little incentive
to move forward with negotiations," it stressed,
noting that the administration of President Barack
Obama should have a plan at the ready that would
make clear how and in what sequence Washington
might ease sanctions in exchange for Iranian
The new report, which is
signed by 38 foreign policy luminaries, including
three Republican former cabinet secretaries,
former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and
half a dozen retired Army and Marine Corps
generals with substantial Middle East experience,
comes at a particularly sensitive moment.
On the one hand, Congress, prodded by the
powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee
(AIPAC), is moving to enact as part of the 2013
defense bill tough new sanctions against foreign
companies and individuals still doing business in
several key Iranian economic sectors.
final bill, which may seek to reduce Obama's
ability to "waive" such sanctions, could also
include policy language adopted by the House
urging the administration to build up its military
presence in the region to make the threat of an
attack against Iran's nuclear facilities more
On the other hand, the
administration, which opposes the pending
sanctions package and any limitation on the
president's waiver authority, has been meeting
with its partners in the P5+1 group - the US,
Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany - to
forge a common negotiating position in preparation
for a new round of talks with Iran that will
probably take place next month.
clearest statement to date, Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton last week said Washington was also
willing to engage Tehran on a bilateral basis in
order to gain an accord.
She and other
officials have said in the past that Washington is
willing to ease sanctions in return for Iran's
cooperation, but the administration has been vague
about the timing, suggesting it would consider
taking such steps only after Tehran took specific
These include shipping its
stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium out of
the country, closing its Fordow enrichment plant,
and clearing up long-pending questions by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about
Tehran's possible past research into the military
applications of nuclear energy.
neither the United States nor the UN Security
Council has stipulated the precise criteria that
Iran must meet to trigger the lifting of
sanctions, or the sanctions that would be lifted
in exchange for Iran's actions," noted the new
report, which was also signed by more than a dozen
retired top-ranked diplomats, including former
U.N. ambassador Thomas Pickering. "There is no
action-for-action plan that all parties
Given the prominence and
bipartisanship of the signatories, who also
included Michael Hayden, a retired four-star Air
Force general who served in top intelligence
positions under Bill Clinton and George W Bush and
advised Mitt Romney in his unsuccessful election
bid against Obama, the new report could well
influence both the debate in Congress and within
The Iran Project's
first report - on the costs and benefits of a
possible US or Israeli military attack on Iran -
received considerable attention here after its
release in mid-September.
which concluded that even a massive US assault
would set back Tehran's nuclear program by only
four years at best, highlighted the growing
concern in establishment foreign-policy circles
about the beating of the war drums by the
right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and its supporters here.
Like its predecessor, the latest report,
does not advocate a particular policy.
it notes that the benefits of US sanctions against
Iran "have often been taken as a given," in part
because they offer an alternative to military
action. The costs of sanctions, on the other hand,
have not been "routinely addressed in the public
or policymaking debate".
said, "sanctions alone are not a policy," and
their effectiveness "will depend not only on the
sanctions themselves, but also on the negotiating
strategy associated with them."
the costs, as well as the benefits, of sanctions,
it said, should "enhance the quality of debate
about the sanctions regime and the role of
sanctions in overall US policy toward Iran."
Among the benefits sanctions have
provided, according to the report, have been a
slowdown in the expansion of Iran's nuclear
program; a relative weakening of its conventional
military capabilities; growing concerns in the
regime about public unhappiness with the economy
which "appears to have been significantly
weakened" as a result of these measures.
It also cited "some indications of a
greater willingness on the part of the Iranian
leadership to negotiate seriously" over its
nuclear program, although the report also
expressed doubt "that the current severe sanctions
regime will significantly affect the decision
making of Iran's leaders - any more than past
sanctions did - barring some willingness on the
part of sanctioning countries to combine continued
pressure with positive signals and decisions on
matters of great interest to Iran."
costs side of the ledger, on the other hand, the
report cited tensions between the US and Russia,
China, India, Turkey, and South Korea, among other
countries, which have been pressed to comply with
Washington's increasingly comprehensive sanctions.
It also noted increased influence by
hard-line factions, such as the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), over the
cash-strapped economy; the political empowerment
of those same factions which can depict the
sanctions as US-led aggression; and the sanctions'
potential negative humanitarian impact as US and
foreign companies and groups that sell or provide
food and medicine to Iran find the licensing
procedures too burdensome and the banks needed to
provide credit for such transactions increasingly
unwilling to do so.
Insofar as the
sanctions lower the quality of life for the
average Iranian, they may also contribute to
long-term alienation between the two countries.
In addition, the sanctions are creating
"new international patterns of trade" that are
resulting in increased market share for Chinese
and Indian goods in Iran at the expense of Western
products, while the "rapid expansion of
unofficial, black-market trade between Iran and
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey is
distorting and undermining the economies of those
states and the region," according to the report.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign
policy can be read at lobelog.com.