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Archive for the ‘Sanctions and Security’ Category

Yes, there must be consequences for those who ordered the chemical weapons massacre in Syria, but this is not an argument for military strikes. Robust options are available for mobilizing international pressure against the Assad regime and seeking an end to the killing. The United States should:

Provide the evidence

  • Give a detailed report to the UN Security Council and the world media of the evidence it claims to possess identifying the Syrian political and military leaders responsible for the chemical attacks; clarify the inconsistencies in the information that has been presented to date,
  • Support continued and more thorough investigation by UN inspectors to develop further evidence of precisely what happened and who was responsible for the massacre.

Apply international pressure

  • Seek approval of resolutions at the UN Security Council, the Arab League and other international bodies condemning the chemical massacre as a war crime and a crime against humanity,
  • Urge the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against those who are found to be responsible for the massacre,
  • Urge the Security Council to refer the Syrian chemical attacks to the International Criminal Court with an expedited mandate for gaining further criminal evidence and issuing indictments against those responsible,
  • Apply additional U.S. sanctions against the Assad regime, cancelling all business dealings and barring from U.S. markets any governments or firms that enable or finance Syrian government atrocities,
  • Work with European governments and other countries to urge the imposition of similar sanctions.

Pursue diplomatic options

  • Engage with Russia and Iran to seek their support in a coordinated strategy to take international legal action against those responsible for the chemical massacre and to encourage a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war,
  • Renew and intensify pressure on the Syrian government and rebel forces to participate in the proposed Geneva II peace negotiations, toward the goal of reaching a ceasefire and agreement for dividing power in Syria,
  • Increase humanitarian aid to provide support for the growing number of refugees from Syria.

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Kenneth Katzman’s latest assessment of international sanctions against Iran is mind-blowing, even for someone as jaded on the topic as I am. Those of us who follow the subject have known for years that sanctions on Iran are completely irrational, a form of what Richard Haass calls “sanctioning madness,” a policy that is pursued for its own sake without consideration of its demonstrated failure.

The list of sanctions and penalties against Iran seems endless. Katzman needs 50 pages just to describe all of them. In exhaustive detail he reviews the dozens of laws, regulations and executive orders that apply to almost every form of interaction with Iran, and that also impose penalties on those from other countries, requiring them to reduce or sever trade with Iran if they want to do business in the U.S.

What have all these sanctions wrought? Read for yourself:

  • “There is a consensus that U.S. and U.N. sanctions have not, to date, accomplished their core strategic objective of compelling Iran to verifiably limit its nuclear development to purely peaceful purposes.”
  • “International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports have said that Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium more rapidly continues to expand, as does its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium. And, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on March 12, 2013, that Iran ‘is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile arsenal.’”
  • “Sanctions do not appear to have materially reduced Iran’s capability to finance and provide arms to militant movements in the Middle East and to Syria.”
  • “A congressionally-mandated Defense Department report of April 2012 called into question whether sanctions would erode Iran’s conventional military capabilities.”
  • “U.S. and international sanctions have not, to date, had a measurable effect on human rights practices in Iran.”

While sanctions have had no impact in changing Iran’s nuclear policies, they are devastating the Iranian economy. The results of sanctions, according to Katzman, include falling oil revenues and production, shrinking GDP per capita, a collapsing currency, rising inflation, and declining industrial production—in short an economic disaster that is causing serious hardships for millions of Iranians.

Despite this record of failure, some members of Congress are sponsoring legislation to pile on even more sanctions – jeopardizing the diplomatic opportunity presented by the election of an Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, who has indicated a desire to engage productively on the nuclear issue.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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Last Friday I was interviewed on the PBS NewsHour about alternatives to using military force in Syria:

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If the Assad regime has used chemical weapons and crossed the red line President Obama warned against, urgent international action is needed. This does not mean the United States should take military action. Instead Washington should work through the United Nations to confirm the evidence and if necessary mobilize diplomatic action against those responsible.

The first task is to get UN inspectors into Syria to verify if chemical weapons have been used, and by whom. The UN Secretary General has assembled a team of experts, but the Assad regime so far has refused the demand for unrestricted access and has denied them entry. The U.S. should support efforts to negotiate terms of reference for the inspection team so that it can enter the country and begin collecting evidence.

It is important to acknowledge that the information available so far is very uneven and limited. No soil samples are available from a physical site. Most of the evidence reportedly comes from tissue and blood samples that have been transmitted by multiple handlers. The ‘chain of custody’ of the detected elements and the identities of those responsible remain unclear.

It is not clear who may have used chemical weapons. Initially the Assad regime claimed that the rebels were responsible for the injuries and deaths that were reported last month. The rebels claim the government is responsible. The amounts of sarin and other toxic agents reportedly used were quite small. Some analysts have suggested that the use of chemical weapons shells may have been inadvertent. These and other questions need to be clarified before any action can be taken.

If the evidence shows that the Syrian government has indeed used these weapons, the Obama administration should work with key allies and members of Security Council to apply pressure on the Assad regime. The goal should be to take diplomatic steps that could lead to the adoption of targeted Security Council sanctions directed at those responsible for the command and control of chemical weapons systems. Hopefully Russia and China could be persuaded to support such measures. This would be a major diplomatic setback for Assad and would isolate and weaken his regime. None of this will be possible without firm evidence of actual chemical weapons use by government forces.

No justification exists for even considering military action. Crossing that dangerous red line would have severe negative consequences. It could involve U.S. forces in another Middle East conflict and perhaps drag us into the deadly Syrian civil war, worsening an already grave security crisis in the region. Bombing strikes would not be sufficient to neutralize Syria’s vast arsenal of chemical weapons, and they could cause explosions that would release the very deadly toxins we seek to contain. The use of force would squander any opportunity to win Russian and Chinese support for UN action and would hand the Assad regime a lifeline of continued diplomatic support.

Multilateral action through the UN offers the best path for determining if the regime has used chemical weapons and if so for mobilizing international pressure against those responsible.

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This has been a week of war-mongering against Iran, all of it carefully orchestrated to coincide with the annual Washington convention of AIPAC, the American Israeli Political Action Committee.

In his speech to AIPAC U.S. Vice President Joe Biden pointedly said “all options, including military force, are on the table.” The United States is not bluffing and the window for diplomacy is closing, he warned. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu used identical language about the window for diplomacy closing in his video comments to the conference. He reiterated the spurious claim from his UN speech in the fall that Iran will soon cross a ‘red line’ of uranium enrichment capability.

Not to be outdone, hawks in the U.S. Senate introduced a new resolution, S. Res. 65, declaring “if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.” The resolution was introduced by Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). AIPAC lobbyists are urging support for the measure in their visits to Capitol Hill this week.

The resolution implies that the government of Israel will have de facto authority over U.S. policy.  It could set the stage for the United States being dragged into a future Israeli attack on Iran, with disastrous consequences for U.S. security and the region.  Peace Action and other antiwar groups have called the resolution a backdoor to war with Iran.

Even if that dreaded scenario never occurs, the very act of proposing such a resolution—and the veiled threats from Biden and Netanyahu—are provocative and counterproductive. Issuing threats will never convince Iran to cooperate. The government of Tehran will not yield to sanctions and coercive pressure.

We should have learned that by now. Decades of U.S. sanctions and military deployments against Iran have not had the slightest effect in moderating the regime’s policies. Nor have these pressures slowed the country’s steady progress toward acquiring nuclear capability. Sanctions and military threats have made Iran less cooperative.

Instead of issuing new threats and imposing more sanctions, the United States should offer to refrain from military action, withdraw some of our forces from the region, and suspend economic sanctions, in exchange for Iran guaranteeing the peaceful character of its nuclear program and permitting more rigorous international monitoring.

The chances of such a position being adopted now in the poisoned political atmosphere of Washington are nil, but it is important nonetheless to raise our voices against the current war-mongering. You can register your opposition to the Senate resolution by sending a message through the Peace Action West website here.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the buildup to the Iraq War exactly ten years ago, and the efforts by so many of us to halt the march to madness. I posted some reflections on Ten Years After Iraq yesterday on the God’s Politics blog at Sojourners.  Click here to read them.

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The fatwa from the Ayatollah last week blew away any near-term chance of a diplomatic opening with Iran. Vice President Biden’s earlier affirmation of a willingness to talk and Foreign Minister Salehi’s positive reply the next day briefly raised hopes, but the Leader’s dismissal abruptly ended any optimism.

The underlying need for a negotiated solution remains, however, and will grow more urgent if as expected talk of possible military action resurfaces in coming months. The core of a successful U.S. bargaining position and the outline of an eventual agreement with Iran have been identified by independent experts for many years. The political will for pursuing such a settlement does not exist right now in Washington, but it is important nonetheless to state the truth, even if decision makers refuse to listen.

Imposing more pressure on Iran will not work. This approach has been tried repeatedly for years but has not halted the advance of Iran’s nuclear program. Sanctions have caused serious harm to the Iranian economy but have not changed the regime’s political character. On the contrary, the octogenarian rulers in Iran seem to have grown even more reactionary and unyielding.

To break through the Leader’s reluctance will take a significant initiative from the United States. We know what we want from Tehran: binding limits on its nuclear program, assurances that it is not building a bomb, and more rigorous international monitoring. What are we prepared to offer in return?

If Tehran permits more intrusive inspections and guarantees the peaceful character of its nuclear program, the United States should accept Iranian enrichment and begin to lift sanctions. With each step toward greater Iranian transparency we should further ease sanctions, aiming toward the normalization of economic and political relations.

Reaching these goals will require a long journey, given the historical animosity between Washington and Tehran and the divisiveness of these issues.  A negotiated solution is indispensable, though, and is the only way to prevent proliferation and avoid war.

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In the 1990s, because of the horrific humanitarian costs of the draconian embargo against Iraq, the United States and other countries adopted a policy of targeted sanctions. No longer would nations impose general sanctions that harm innocent populations. The focus instead would be on pressuring specific individuals and entities responsible for wrongdoing through arms embargoes and selective measures such as travel bans and asset freezes.

Today in Iran the United States and the European Union have abandoned the idea of smart sanctions. U.S. and EU sanctions have hammered Iran’s banking industry and oil trading sector and are starting to devastate the economy. The goal is to make sanctions ‘bite’ so that the Tehran government will yield to Western demands, but so far Iranian officials remain defiant.

Meanwhile the costs for the people of Iran are mounting. Oil exports have dropped in half, national income is plummeting, inflation has gone through the roof, and economic hardships are mounting. Vulnerable medical patients cannot get the medicines they need. Recent reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times indicate that chemotherapy drugs are hard to obtain and in short supply. Food and medicines are exempt from sanctions, but if they they cannot be financed, the exemption is meaningless. In response to the troubling news stories the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control recently loosened regulations for exporting medicines to Iran, but the larger problem of how to finance such purchases remains.

Policy makers seem to have forgotten the reasons for shifting to targeted sanctions. The purpose is not only to avoid unintended humanitarian consequences but to minimize the risk of a rally-round-the-flag effect. When sanctions harm the innocent they lose legitimacy and political support. Governments under blanket sanctions can blame their country’s economic and social miseries on external enemies, diverting attention from their own mismanagement. They can isolate domestic opponents by accusing them of helping foreign enemies. All of these trends are evident now in Iran. Sanctions have made life more difficult for reformers and human rights advocates—which is why many opponents of the regime, including Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, are critical of them.

It is important to distinguish between UN sanctions and the broader measures imposed by the United States and the European Union. The sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council are more selective and targeted. They freeze the assets and ban the travel of approximately 100 Iranian officials and entities responsible for the country’s nuclear program. They do not hurt ordinary people. These sanctions have the unanimous support of the Security Council, including China and Russia. They signal strong international opposition to an Iranian bomb program. They provide bargaining leverage that can be used to reach a negotiated agreement to end the nuclear standoff.

Sanctions that target potential bomb makers are smart. Those that harm innocent civilians are counterproductive and should be abandoned.

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Iraq is back in the news. American officials are distressed that the Baghdad government is not being cooperative in serving U.S. interests in the region. They also worry about spillover effects from the war in Syria. Some of the rebels battling the Syrian government are taking refuge and recruiting supporters in Iraq’s Anbar province, giving new life to the Al Qaida-related militancy in the area that first arose in response to the U.S. occupation.

The Iraqi government is allowing Iran to supply weapons to Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus. This is a violation of UN sanctions that require states to cooperate in preventing Iranian arms exports. Planes and trucks with Iranian weapons are reportedly traversing Iraq on a daily basis.

The main beneficiary of the U.S. war in Iraq has been Iran. Tehran now has a strong ally next door rather than the feared enemy it once had in Saddam Hussein. Iraq is helping Iran prop up the Assad dictatorship in Syria. The Baghdad regime is receiving billions of dollars of American-made weapons free of charge, but it is not willing to provide the quid pro quo of supporting U.S. policy in the region.

All of this raises again the question of why the U.S. went to war in Iraq and what was accomplished. The Iraqi state has conducted relatively open elections, which is an improvement over the tyranny of Saddam, but it is still repressive and can hardly be considered democratic. Ethnic political divisions exacerbated by the U.S.-led invasion are preventing cooperation among Iraqi political factions. A low-grade Sunni insurgency continues to challenge the pro-Iranian Shia-dominated state.  The Sunni vice president has been indicted for murder and has fled the country.

Was it for this that more than 4,000 Americans died and tens of thousands were maimed? That tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed? Is this why we drained hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury? Let those who would seek to justify the war try to answer these questions.

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Once again an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report of Iranian progress in developing its nuclear industry has set off alarm bells in Washington and Tel Aviv, sparking renewed discussion of possible Israeli military strikes.  The following points should be kept in mind as the debate about Iran’s nuclear program continues:

 

1. There is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon or that it is taking steps toward actually building a bomb. Iran continues to permit IAEA inspectors to monitor its known nuclear facilities.

2.  Although the UN Security Council has demanded in multiple resolutions that Iran halt uranium enrichment, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty entitles all countries to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Treaty refers to this as an “inalienable right,” language that Iranian authorities constantly cite.

3.  Iran is steadily developing its capacity to enrich uranium. It has now produced more than enough uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity to maintain the production of medical isotopes at its Tehran Research Reactor. Iran does not have enough more highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear warhead. Some of its 20 per cent uranium is in a form that is extremely difficult to enrich to the higher levels (90 per cent purity) that would be needed for a bomb.

4.  Iran has added another 1,000 centrifuges at its underground enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. These are older, less reliable centrifuge models, and only about a third of the installed centrifuges are operating.  This may be an indication that international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program are having some impact.

5.  Military strikes are not a solution to the Iranian nuclear dilemma. Israel does not have the military capacity to destroy Iran’s widely dispersed, well defended, and increasingly hardened and deeply buried nuclear facilities. Bombing strikes would cause only a limited and temporary setback to Iran’s nuclear program.

6.  Israeli military strikes would have extremely negative security implications in the region. Iran would almost certainly retaliate militarily, and its political leaders might respond to external military aggression by accelerating nuclear development and proceeding to actual weapons production.

7.  Diplomacy is the only way to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran. Sanctions are useful to diplomacy but they should be combined with incentives, including an end to military threats against Iran and an offer to remove sanctions if Iran is fully transparent and allows more rigorous international monitoring of its nuclear program.

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