Top U.S. Official Expects Iran Sanctions: Will They Work?

Defense Secretary Gates said in Iraq that sanctions against Iran's nuclear program are likely

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Iran's plan to enrich uranium for medical-grade nuclear material has drawn international condemnation and the threat of multilateral sanctions. Sanctions may now be on the way. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in Iraq this Friday, "I think you're going to see some significant additional sanctions imposed by the international community" if Iran does not stop its program. Even if the U.S. and others go through with it, key unanswered questions remain. Who will join in sanctions? What to do about China and Russia, which hold vetos on the relevant United Nations Security Council? Perhaps most importantly, will it make any difference in Iran's actions?

  • Sanction Iranian Business  The Wall Street Journal's Danielle Pletka insists it would work: "a complete travel ban for all regime officials (a similar ban was in place on Saddam Hussein's Iraq), a ban on all correspondent relationships with Iranian banks (which facilitate letters of credit and foreign financing of Iranian business and trade), and an end to all export financing (which remains in the billions of dollars per annum to this day). Also: denial of landing rights to Iran Air (in addition to IranAir Cargo, something already under consideration), and denial of access to capital markets for Iran's most important investors and commercial partners."
  • Sanctions Will Backfire  The Arms Control Association warns, "Given their track record, new sanctions are hardly the tactic one would rush to as a promising choice. [...] By one count, economic sanctions have been used 174 times since World War I." They write, "Iran is a proud country with a cultivated abhorrence of outside interference, especially when the interference is perceived as having imperial overtones. New U.S. and other sanctions can impose costs on Iran, but the loud and accusing character of the sanctions makes them as likely to induce resistance as compliance."
  • Domestic Politics Doom Iran Talks  The National's Gary Sick laments, "the future of interactions between the United States and Iran under Barack Obama might not look so different from his predecessors." He writes, "Relations between the United States and Iran have always been more about domestic politics than foreign policy. That has never been truer than it is today. For years, the United States attempted to isolate and contain Iran, without much success. Now Iran is isolating itself." Any success "requires patience and perseverance – qualities that come hard to American policy makers."
  • Nuclear Iran Not Inevitable  The Diplomatic Courier's Jamsheed and Carol Choksy write, "That nation has neither the technology nor the fiscal resources to construct many new uranium enrichment facilities within any reasonable period of time. Likewise the recently unveiled nuclear facility near Qom will not be ready in the near future." They write, "The end game for Iran may very well be not merely to utilize nuclear energy but to accomplish its national goal of once again becoming an international power as ElBaradei once noted. If Iran is convinced it can be an authoritative player on the global stage without atomic weapons, then a nuclear deal might still be possible."
  • Iran Our Biggest Challenge Abroad in 2010  The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib surveys "the road just ahead on the U.S. foreign-policy problem most likely to dominate 2010." He writes, "[T]he American focus will be on sanctions next month, and [National Security Advisor Jim] Jones seems confident Russia and China are moving Washington's way on the subject. Turkey, though, is a potential problem. Ankara is a traditional bridge between Iran and the West, and happens to hold a rotating seat right now on the U.N. Security Council."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.