The Obama administration is preparing a new batch of sanctions against Iran to be announced in advance of upcoming nuclear talks in Turkey.
Barbara Slavin, last updated: December 17, 2010
Inter Press Service
The Barack Obama administration is preparing a new batch of sanctions against Iran to be announced next week in advance of nuclear talks in Turkey.
Two Iran experts in Washington who are usually well briefed about U.S. Iran policy said more Iranian officials would be designated as abusers of human rights on top of eight sanctioned earlier this year. That would deny them the right to travel to the U.S. and freeze any assets they might hold in this country.
Gary Samore, White House coordinator on non-proliferation, told a neoconservative organisation, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, last week that the U.S. would "maintain and even increase pressure" against Iran so long as negotiations produced no progress on curbing Iran's nuclear programme.
Asked by IPS if that meant new punishments before a meeting expected in January in Istanbul, Samore said, "I think it would be an important message to send to take additional measures."
U.S. officials have described two days of talks with Iran in Geneva last week – the first in more than a year - as underwhelming. Samore said there had been "no visible progress".
Another U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Iranian delegation, led by national security adviser Saeed Jalili, spent most of the time in "political posturing". Unlike last year's session, there was no one-on- one meeting between Jalili and the top U.S. representative, undersecretary of State Bill Burns.
However, U.S. officials remain hopeful that at the least, sanctions will slow Iran's nuclear progress, and at best, change Iran's cost-benefit analysis regarding a programme with potential military applications.
"I believe that if the cost is high enough, they will accept suspension" of their uranium enrichment programme, Samore said last week.
Iranian officials have given no indication of such flexibility. In fact, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said repeatedly that he will not suspend enrichment of uranium, which has given Iran a stockpile of more than 3,000 kilogrammes of lightly processed nuclear fuel.
U.S. officials this week were trying to understand what impact if any the forced exit of Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki would have on negotiations.
Mottaki is to be replaced by Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation. Educated in the United States at M.I.T., Salehi is certainly well versed in nuclear matters. But the abrupt manner of his appointment – while Mottaki was on a diplomatic mission in Africa - has further alienated Iranian conservatives who are increasingly worried by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's consolidation of power and who blocked a tentative nuclear deal last year.
Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council and a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, called the substitution of Salehi for Mottaki "a mixed bag". If Iran is serious about a resolution of the nuclear dispute, Salehi could be an asset, Parsi said, but he might be weaker on other issues.
There was a flurry of negative reaction to the move even in Iran's highly restricted press. This is despite the fact that Mottaki has been more spokesman than player in Iranian foreign affairs throughout his five-year tenure and especially since disputed 2009 presidential elections.
At a conference in Bahrain earlier this month, he literally ran away from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. At the same time, he described as positive Clinton's remarks that Iran might be allowed to enrich uranium at some point in the future – if it satisfied international concerns.
The Obama administration has focused on the nuclear issue with Iran, but has also sought to show concern for human rights in the wake of a brutal government crackdown on protestors following last year's elections.
In September, the White House designated eight Iranian officials, including the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, the intelligence minister and the former chief prosecutor, for "serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran".
At the time, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the "list of names is not exhaustive and will continue to grow based on events in Iran, and as additional information and evidence becomes available".
Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois newly elected to fill Obama's old seat in the Senate, has suggested that the Obama administration go further and "make human rights a central tenet of future negotiations with Iran".
Keynoting the Foundation for Defense of Democracies conference last week, Kirk – who helped author a major sanctions bill when he was in the House – said that President Obama should invite exiled members of the opposition Green Movement to meet him at the White House, increase funding for Iranian democracy promotion and make Iranian political prisoners "household names throughout America" much as Ronald Reagan did with Soviet detainees in the 1980s.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has confirmed that he is actively considering running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. While he holds some “centrist” views on domestic policy, Bush—an alum of the Project for a New American Century—appears inclined to pursue his brother’s hawkish foreign policy prescriptions, like threatening military action against Iran and doubling down on his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “A lot of things in history change over time,” he said during a CNN interview. “I think people will respect the resolve that my brother showed, both in defending the country and the war in Iraq.”
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, is a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a former U.S. citizen who is closely tied to the Republican Party establishment. Dermer recently received attention for his role in organizing a controversial speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress. The surprise announcement of Netanyahu’s speech by House Speaker John Boehner shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union address spurred widespread criticism, with the White House calling it a “breach of protocol” because it had not been notified of the invitation in advance. Said one observer: “In almost any other case, such bad faith and duplicity would lead a host country to ask that an ambassador be withdrawn.”
Zuhdi Jasser is a Muslim-American pundit who is close to a number of far-right, anti-Islamic organizations. Founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Jasser’s efforts to smear the work of Muslim-American civil society organizations spurred one observer to comment: “So how is it possible for someone who claims to be a devout Muslim to be an active participant in helping the promotion of anti-Islam sentiment? Therein lies Dr. Jasser’s value to this multi-million dollar machine—to play the role of the ‘good Muslim.’”
The Republican Jewish Coalition, the hardline “pro-Israel” lobbying outfit supported by Sheldon Adelson, has vocally promoted efforts by Congress to derail U.S.-led negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. With a view to the next presidential election, RJC’s executive director Matthew Brooks recently attacked Hillary Clinton’s stance on Iran: “For four years Hillary Clinton proved to the world that her foreign policy judgment and skills are clearly lacking. Now, former Secretary Clinton fails to realize that after exhaustive negotiations with Iran, rewarding them with more time is a catalyst to empower and embolden the Iranian regime further.”
Michael Gerson, the conservative op-ed columnist for the Washington Post and former Bush speechwriter, has pushed for a more aggressive stance from President Obama on foreign policy, lambasting Obama’s purported “lead from behind” doctrine in a recent op-ed. “Recent history yields one interpretation,” wrote Gerson. “If the United States does not lead the global war on terrorism, the war will not be led. But still [Obama] refuses to broaden his conception of the U.S. role in the Middle East.”
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