Sanctioning Iran: target Khameini, return assets to the people

THE DEPROLIFERATOR — “We declare that Iran respects the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], despite all the flaws the treaty has,” said Ali-Akbar Salehi, director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, on Iran’s Press TV. “I believe that some Western countries, which are unfortunately affected by international Zionism, are trying to force Iran to withdraw from the NPT so that they can create an anti-Iran climate in the international arena.”

While invoking the NPT — that talisman of a treaty — on his way to the moral high ground, Salehi stumbled and took a header. Like his president, he just couldn’t keep his thoughts about Zionism to himself. Nor did he help himself or his cause by adding “we hope that the wise part of the West will overcome its irrational part so that it can seize the opportunity offered by Iran to end the current situation.”

Whenever you start feeling empathy for Iran’s nuclear inferiority complex, one of its officials shoots himself in the foot with comments ranging from anti-Israel to outright anti-semitic. What Salehi was addressing is Iran’s response to the West proposing to enrich uranium for Iran in Russia and France. As I wrote in a previous post:

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki volunteered to hand over 400 kilograms of uranium in exchange for an equivalent amount of enriched material traded up front. According to Mottaki, the “remainder of the material would be traded over ‘several years.'” But the agreement had called for Iran to hand over all 1,200 kilograms in one batch. The idea on the part of the West was to reduce the amount of uranium remaining in Iran to a level which was insufficient to enrich for military purposes.

As of a couple of weeks ago, it looked like the United States had finally had enough of Iran’s failure to comply with its offer. The Financial Times reported:

The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which would expand existing US restrictions to companies that sell and insure refined oil shipments to Iran, passed the House of Representatives with ease by 412 votes to 12. … “The only sanctions that matter are the gasoline sanctions. . .” Mark Kirk, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, told the Financial Times. … The measures are also backed by 77 out of 100 senators.

As usual, Iran’s trading partner Russia (as well as China) still isn’t sold on sanctions. In expressing his government’s doubts, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said, “We have no reason to believe that Iran plans to move in [the direction of developing nuclear weapons]” adding that “without serious proof (of this), it is irresponsible to pose such accusations.”

Congress’s idea of sanctions is sure to spread pain and suffering far and wide across Iran. Thankfully, as the Washington Post reports, the Obama administration shows. . .

. . . little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran. “We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy,” said a senior U.S. official. … “We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”

Following the administration’s lead, David Sanger and William Broad of the New York Times have, for the moment, ceased their usual greasing the skids for an attack. Instead they report:

Although repeated rounds of sanctions over many years have not dissuaded Iran from pursuing nuclear technology, an administration official involved in the Iran policy said the hope was that the current troubles “give us a window to impose the first sanctions that may make the Iranians think the nuclear program isn’t worth the price tag.”

The Washington Post article reports, “high on the list of targets is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps [which] is playing an increasingly bigger role in Iran’s economy.”

It’s difficult to understand why the officials in the Post and Times stories, as well as the U.S. government for which they speak, think sanctions would give the average Iranian pause to reconsider its state’s nuclear power program. For argument’s sake, imagine that sanctions bring adversity to only the Revolutionary Guard (impossible, of course, because its businesses employ average Iranians). If little of the Iranian public suffers, what would it care if the nuclear power program was causing harm to the Revolutionary Guard?

Conversely, if a substantial percentage of the Iranian public was affected, what makes the U.S. government think that instead of directing its anger at the United States, it would redirect its anger to its own administration instead of the immediate cause, the United States? That’s a variation on how U.S. hawks — never willing to overlook a chance to turn wishful thinking into magical thinking — have claimed our bombing Iran will inspire its people to overthrow its own government.

Hitting the Bulls Eye with Targeted Sanctions

To make those sanctions as smart as possible, paint a target on the back of the Supreme Leader himself. A juicy article in the Telegraph catalogues “the private opulence and eccentric tastes of 70-year-old Ayatollah Khamenei” such as his system of palaces, and his fine horses and collectables. Also, “Claims from three intelligence officials, who have. . . fled Iran, have. . . documented the Khamenei family’s wide-reaching business connections, including interests in European manufacturers, African mobile phone companies and international commodities markets.”

The authors of the article refer to film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf as the Green Movement’s exiled leader. Though he was supportive of the Islamic Revolution’s early violent excesses, he now calls himself Mir-Hossein Moussavi’s official spokesman abroad. Makhmalbaf said, “If the Western governments are serious enough in putting pressure on the regime by applying economic sanctions, then they should follow these leads and find these bank accounts and confiscate their deposits to be returned to the Iranian people at a later time.” [Emphasis added.]

What a concept — return the funds that sanctions freeze to sanctions’ victims. Not something you hear much talk about in the West, is it?

Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen speaks for many when he writes

. . .Setting aside the still debatable objective of this Iranian endeavor (nuclear ambiguity or an actual device?), it’s not in the midst of the current political turmoil that Tehran is going to break out of its back-and-forth tinkering. Inertia is always strong in Iran’s many-headed system. [Note] the risible, blustery confusion over a possible deal to export Iran’s low-enriched uranium. All this says — nay, screams — to me: Do nothing. … When I’m asked where the “stick” is in Iran, my response is the stick is Iranian society — the bubbling reformist pressure now rising up from Iran’s highly educated youth and brave women.

Not that I’m advocating violent overthrow, but just because the momentum of an idea whose time has come peacefully succeeded in India and with communism doesn’t mean it will with an administration as tone-deaf as Iran’s.

First posted at the Faster Times.