20.02.2013 Author: Viktor Mikhin

What Lies Ahead for Iran?

In an address to a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would discuss several important issues with US President Barack Obama when he visits Israel. He said his top priority would be Iran’s nuclear program: “Iran is Israel’s main threat. President Obama and I are in agreement that the Iranian problem will be the main topic of our discussions. I believe in the need for tougher sanctions against Iran that, together with a real threat of a military operation against the country’s nuclear facilities, can produce the desired result.”

The Israeli prime minister cited the recent nuclear tests in North Korea as proof that sanctions unsupported by a threat of force cannot stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “Sanctions alone will not stop” Iran’s nuclear program. They must be “coupled with a robust, credible, military threat. If they are not, then there is no chance to stop [its program],” Netanyahu said.

Although proof is lacking, he accused Iran, which denies its nuclear program has a military component, of stepping up its enrichment of uranium and of striving to develop nuclear weapons. However, many political analysts perceive problems with Netanyahu’s domestic policy and his inability to form a new government capable of coping with the many challenges currently facing Israeli society in his anti-Iran rhetoric.

For its part, the United States introduced new and even tougher sanctions against Iran in the first half of February. US authorities erected new barriers to transfers of revenues from the sale of Iranian oil and petroleum products to prevent Tehran’s partners from shipping goods to Iran without Washington’s permission.

Over the past three decades Washington has used pretexts like Iranian support of international terrorism and development of nuclear weapons to increase the pressure on Iran by blocking Iranian assets in US banks. The illegal seizure of Iranian national property is an indication of the United States’ hostile policy towards Iranians. These and other illegal actions form the basis of Washington’s policy of clampdowns, diktats and provocations against Tehran.

A striking example of this demagogic policy and deception was Vice President Joe Biden’s recent call for direct talks with Iran and the plan he proposed that he believes could lead to a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem. However, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei immediately refused to participate in direct bilateral talks with US representatives. He explained his refusal by saying that no negotiations to normalize relations between the two countries can take place until the US sanctions against Iran have been lifted. Khamenei said Washington is proposing to negotiate with Iran “at gunpoint” because in early February the US government introduced draconian new financial sanctions against Iranian oil exports.

The new restrictions also obstruct Tehran’s access to funds generated by foreign oil sales to prevent its trading partners from sending goods to Iran without Washington’s permission. The White House evidently wants to make the rest of the countries in the world subject to internal American legislation, which is contrary to international free trade rules. The new sanctions, like the previous ones, are designed to continue the policy of paralyzing Iran’s economy and provoking unrest and riots in Iran.

Ayatollah Khamenei responded to these accusations by saying that his country is not developing nuclear weapons, but if it decided to do so no one would be able to stop it. The Ayatollah said Tehran supports the elimination of nuclear weapons. On his personal website, Khamenei said Iran believes that nuclear weapons must be destroyed, adding that Iran does not need nuclear weapons. But he said that if Iran wanted to acquire such a weapon, no one would be able to prevent it. Iranian authorities claimed that the fatwa banning nuclear weapons released by the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ali Khomenei, is still in force.

International Energy Agency (IEA) experts estimate that the West’s new sanctions have cost Iran $40 billion. According to IEA assessments, in January 2013 its hydrocarbon production dropped to its lowest point in 30 years — 2.65 million barrels per day; before the sanctions were introduced, it was producing 3.7 million barrels per day. The sanctions aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program have cut oil exports almost in half as compared with the figure in late 2011, to 2.2 million barrels. The country has lost billions of dollars as a result, and Iran’s national currency has begun dropping in value. In late January, Iran halted oil and gas deliveries to the European Union in response to the embargo on the country. According to Iranian Oil Ministry spokesman Alreza Nikzad-Rahbar, the embargo will continue until the EU countries reconsider the sanctions against Iran.

The sanctions have increased prices on individual medicines in Iraq by 400%, and some drugs cannot be bought at all; earlier, a 15-year-old boy died in southwestern Iran because there was no medicine for hemophilia. Although the West continues its demagogic claims that the repressive measures are directed at Iran’s nuclear program and essential commodities are unaffected, these examples speak for themselves, writes the French newspaper Le Figaro. “The pronounced role of sanctions in creating shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran may have been unintentional, but it is also irrefutable,” the consultant Siamak Namazi acknowledged in a report recently published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center entitled “Sanctions and Medical Supply Shortages in Iran.”

His study showed that since Iran’s exclusion from the international banking system, Western banks are no longer willing risk carrying out transactions with the Islamic Republic out of fear that the US Treasury Department would take action against them. In addition, the decline in oil exports is leading to a shortage of dollars and is making it almost impossible to settle accounts, the newspaper says.

Analysis of all these facts leads us to a quite obvious but very pessimistic conclusion. There will be no positive outcome in the near future from the negotiations between Iran and the West involving either the IAEA or the P5+1. Israel will continue inciting hysteria against Tehran’s peaceful nuclear program. Washington’s new administration, which is grateful to the Israeli lobby for its help in reelecting Barack Obama, will continue imposing new unilateral sanctions in an attempt to strangle the Iranians in the truest sense of the word for their “disobedience” towards the United States. Every initiative Russia offers, no matter how good it is, will be immediately rejected by the West and its allies. And the Iranian issue will remain on the international community’s agenda for a long time to come.

Viktor Mikhin is a columnist for New Eastern Outlook.