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October 7, 2006
US Deal On Iranian Sanctions?

The US announced yesterday that a deal had been reached with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to apply sanctions against Iran for their failure to comply with UNSC resolutions demanding a halt to their enrichment program. None of the nations announced any specific steps, but the New York Times reports that they have all agreed in principle to a reversible, phased application that will isolate Iran economically and diplomatically:

The United States said it had won agreement on Friday from the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany to seek sanctions against Iran over its refusal to shut down a nuclear enrichment program that could be used to build bombs.

While the State Department praised the agreement, which was reached at a one-day meeting here of senior officials from the six nations, American diplomats conceded that there could still be long and difficult negotiations over what penalties to impose and their timing. ...

R. Nicholas Burns, the American under secretary of state for political affairs, said after the meeting that whatever the other nations’ diplomatic language, “What we’ve got is an agreement to go to the Security Council” to punish Iran.

In essence, Mr. Burns said, the six nations “concluded that Iran is not prepared to negotiate with us” based on conditions set last spring, and that “we’ll go forward with sanctions.”

But he admitted the issue was far from decided. “I think there’s going to be a spirited debate about what kind of sanctions should be agreed to.”

Even without a specific agreement on which sanctions to apply, an agreement to do anything through the UNSC demonstrates some progress. Russia and China had shown great reluctance to do anything about Iran other than make public statements urging the Iranians to comply with the UNSC. Given their economic ties to Teheran, the countries likely do not relish the inevitable economic strain it will cause them to comply with sanctions -- but then again, they can simply ignore them like they did with Iraq, if it comes to that.

Still, an agreement to apply sanctions of some kind is more than just symbolic, although one should not underestimate the power behind the symbolism. Iran has bragged openly about the inability of other nations to stand up to the mullahcracy. A united UNSC with even a mild application of sanctions will undermine Ahmadinejad's posing on the matter. The Iranian people will have to consider the diplomatic setback and wonder what further costs will come from their government's nuclear pursuits, especially given the offer from the West to provide Iran with turnkey nuclear power stations. The Iranians will have to stop their constant victory dance and deal with a different balance of power at the UNSC.

This phase may not last very long, though, and the Iranians will count on it. The Russians and the Chinese will probably balk at any sanctions that addresses anything other than the specific nuclear program. They may agree to ending the sale of dual-use technology and restricting the travel of scientists and some diplomats. Unless Iran makes significantly provocative move -- like a nuclear test -- neither country will agree to cut off Iran's gasoline imports or their oil exports, especially the latter. That gives the UNSC a small window to make an impression on the Iranians, and a limited impression at that.

The best strategy to pursue regarding Iran is still internal regime change, no matter how difficult that might be, and it will be difficult. Thanks to the British and American involvement in the coup that ousted Mohammed Mossadeq, the Iranians have a well-founded paranoia about foreign meddling in their internal politics. Somehow both nations have to overcome that incident and convince Iranians to help themselves by removing the radical mullahcracy that removed the government the West reimposed on them after Mossadeq's ouster. It will not easily happen, but the only way to ensure that nuclear weapons do not fall into the hands of dangerous Islamists in Iran is to see them removed from power.

A proper slate of sanctions could facilitate that. If the Iranian people start paying a heavy price for Ahmadinejad's nuclear follies, they may be tempted to end them. That will depend on nations like Russia and China, and this latest development holds some limited promise for progress.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 7, 2006 6:39 AM

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