April 6, 2010

President Obama and sanctions on Iran

In a recent statement, President Barack Obama said, "I'm not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place, I'm interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks."

Unfortunately, that does not seem likely. Despite the President's upbeat rhetoric and cheerleading from his Secretary of State, there does not appear to be consensus among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council for another round of sanctions against Iran. The three previous rounds have proven to be ineffective, and given Russian and Chinese reticence on anything remotely punitive against Tehran, it is doubtful that another watered-down protocol will have any greater effect.

The Security Council did not put the Iranian nuclear program on its April agenda, so the President's wish for action in weeks appears overly optimistic. Russia just a few days ago restated its position that additional talks with Iran are the best hope for resolution of the nuclear issue - that hardly sounds like they are on board, as Secretary Clinton would have us believe.

China has agreed to attend a meeting on the issue - that is not a commitment to support sanctions, merely to meet. China prefers the diplomatic approach to Iran, although that also has produced no results. Of course, "no results" to us may in fact be just the result the Chinese prefer - remember that China gets over 10 percent of its oil from Iran. The meeting has yet to be scheduled.

There is little patience in the President's own party to wait for yet more ineffective United Nations sanctions. Senator Chuck Shumer urged the President to "hit Iran first, on our own, with unilateral sanctions." What makes him think additional American sanctions will be any more effective than the existing U.S. and UN measures? We have very little economic leverage left - sanctions will not work.

The Iranians know that sanctions against the world's fourth largest oil producer are not likely to work. The rest of the world seems to know that as well - Iran and an Iranian-Australian consortium with Chinese financing are working on a contract to develop three oil fields in Iran.

Mr. President, one of your favorite phrases is, "Let me be clear." Okay, here's a real opportunity. Either you are serious about preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, or you are not. What is it, Mr President?

After you answer that, continue to be clear. Diplomacy and your outreach has failed, unilateral American and three rounds of United Nations sanctions have failed, the chances for additional multilateral sanctions appear dubious, and there is not much more American sanctions can achieve. So just what are you prepared to do about Iran?

As with many of your foreign policy efforts, I think I know the answer - nothing. Why not be clear and just say so.