December 4, 2012

Obama Administration opposes tougher Iran sanctions?

The Obama Administration's rhetoric, usually delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, maintains that the United States will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, and that this Administration has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. Despite that, the President has threatened to veto a bill imposing even tougher sanctions on the Islamic Republic. That does not seem consistent.

For those of you who do not follow the Middle East sections of the media, here's what is happening. In an unusual bipartisan move, the U.S. Senate voted 94 to zero to amend the defense authorization bill with sanctions further restricting trade with Iran. The new sanctions would apply to precious metals, graphite, aluminum and steel, metallurgical coal and software used for integrating industrial processes. These are the types of materials that can be used in a nuclear weapons program. This amendment ups the ante in American efforts to cripple those sectors in Iran - this will get the attention of the decision makers in Tehran and not just an impose further economic hardships on the Iranian people.

So why does the Obama Administration oppose this step, a step that might actually have an impact on the recalcitrant regime in Tehran? You would think the President would welcome sanctions that would help him achieve his commitment to prevent the fundamentalist Shi'a regime from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the Administration's previous efforts - these "crippling sanctions" Mrs. Clinton keeps touting (mostly forced on it by the legislative branch), the Iranian nuclear program continues virtually unhindered.

According to chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, the current international sanctions protocols have not had any effect on Iran's nuclear activities - the Islamic Republic continues to enrich uranium at a steady pace, and shows no signs of changing their policy. Sanctions have had an effect on the Iranian economy - inflation is rampant and the value of the Iranian rial has virtually collapsed. While that has hurt the average Iranian, it has done nothing to hinder progress towards the development of nuclear weapon.

There is another policy that has not hindered Iran's nuclear program. It is the Obama Administration's repeated efforts to negotiate a resolution to this crisis - efforts which began as soon as Barack Obama took office in 2009 and have periodically resurfaced each time the Iranians offer to talk yet again. The Iranians, much more skilled in Middle East bargaining than the seemingly naive Barack Obama, have never agreed to anything except to meet again for more talks.

There has been no positive result whatsoever from the Obama policy of "engagement." While the Iranians agree to talk about talks, the centrifuges at multiple facilities continue to enrich uranium. The only chance of a peaceful resolution to this crisis is to force the Iranians to negotiate. Thus far, the sanctions and offers of "engagement" have only worked to Tehran's advantage. Unless the United States, the United Nations or the rest of the world can impose truly draconian sanctions that get the attention of the regime, negotiations will fail.

If negotiations fail, there will be one of two outcomes. Either the Iranians will be successful in acquiring nuclear weapons, or the Israelis will assess that the Iranians are close to such capability and mount an attack on the facilities. Either outcome is problematic, to say the least.

That said, if sanctions are going to be effective, they have to be strong. The Senate amendment is a start. The President needs to accept the fact - quietly so that he does not have to admit failure - that the Iranians are not going to fall victim to his wit and charm. Go for the sanctions.