Sunday, March 25, 2007

UN rolls a second set of sanctions on Iran

It Faces a 7-10 Split in Latest Round

The ability of the UN Security Council to deal successfully with Iran's nuclear program is similar to the dilemma faced by a pro-bowler coming up on a seven-ten split. The prospect of a pin-clearing strike is out of the question having been settled with the first ball. While the likelihood for a spare is fair-to-good, few bowlers are able to get both pins. Indeed conventional wisdom on the subject is short and sweet. Here are the instructions. 1. Throw the ball hard, 2. Hit one of the pins, and 3. Get lucky as hell.

This is pretty much where the UN is with Iran over its nuclear program. Round two imposing political and financial sanctions on Iran for failing to halt its uranium enrichment program took place at the United Nations on Saturday. In a unanimous vote the UN Security Council imposed new penalties on Iran. The sanctions include limits on access to international financial markets by Iran's banks and bans on arms exports & imports. It is aimed at stopping Iran's nuclear activities.

1st Round No Strike

Last December the UN imposed the first round of sanctions, but were rebuffed by a series of angry and fiery speeches from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His short message to the UN about the 1st sanctions was "stuff it." This guy would be right at home in a New Jersey bowling alley. Despite some saber rattling from the US, there isn't a near-term threat of military action in response.

Circumstances haven't changed much since then. There is a lot of diplomatic talk about Iran's nuclear program going on in the world center for relationships among nations. Both the western powers and Iran had at it on Saturday, verbally that is, right after the vote. Nicholas Burns, a senior US State Dept. official, made a sweeping assessment of the impact of UN vote and he wants to raise the ante.

"It is a significant international rebuke to Iran and it's a significant tightening of pressure on Iran. If Iran does not comply there is no question the US will seek a third and tougher resolution."

Snooze Button Need Not Be Engaged

Burns probably doesn't need to hit the snooze alarm function on his clock which has just 60 days to run. The UN resolution instructs the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report back to the UN Security Council in two months whether Iran will halt its nuclear programs. It probably won't which sets up the third frame.

The sanctions resolution threatens to impose a third round of measures against Iran's international and domestic interests if it fails to stop its nucelar programs. This resolution also requires Iran to provide "verifiable assurance" it is not secretly pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.

The IAEA report probably could be written this coming week without waiting. After the UN Security Council vote Iran's foreign minister dismissed the sanctions as "unlawful, unnecessary, and unjustifiable." His rhetorical broadsides could be summed up in a phase commonly heard right across the river from the UN in that New Jersey bowling alley along the lines of "what is you don't understand about 'no'.

Now I'm pretty sure that Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister, has never been to Jersey City or Asbury Park, but he sure sounds like it. He said, "Even the harshest political sanctions or other threats are far too weak to coerce the Iranian nation to retreat . . ." OK, so it isn't garden variety, or garden state, rhetoric. The guy is not convinced his country has to worry about the UN actions or at least that's what he wants the UN to believe.

Mottaki may be taking a swipe at the practical impacts of the sanctions. The Washington Post quotes Abbas Milani, director of Stanford University's Iranian Studies program, as characterizing the sanctions as "rather limited and toothless." Milani said the primary "impact is political rather than practical." He added that the sanctions have a "profound psychological impact on investors and will "erode" the political standing of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

No Reactor Fuel Even for Ready Money

The real impact on Iran will be to limit it access to hard currency need to pay for maintenance and expansion of its oil industry. Also, the Russians turned down Iran's efforts to pay for reactor construction at Bushehr using euros instead of dollars. The NY Times reported on 2/20/07 Russia claimed that Iran had not made the last two $25 million monthly payments, in a dispute about whether it could pay in euros instead of dollars.

The Russians later climbed on board the UN sanctions train a month later telling Iran it would not deliver nuclear fuel for the Bushehr plant unless Iran stops enriching Uranium. The prospects of a nuclear weapons, and missiles to deliver them up to 1,000 miles or more, on its southern border are apparently enough to convince Moscow that it doesn't matter what currencies the Iranians have in their bank accounts.

Are There Shifting Sands in the Persian Empire?

Reuters reported that both Nicholas Burns and Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, think there are elements within Iran that feel Ahamdinejad's over-the-top nuclear tipped rhetoric has isolated the country and that the economic impact of sanctions on the country's oil industry could destabilize the government. Solana said he would contact Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, "to see whether we can find a route to negotiations." Burns apparently agrees with Solana. He said told wire service reporters that because of a "tumultuous political environment" in Iran, he suspects there is a faction within Iran's government that might be open to new negotiations.

The Real Gorilla in the Room?

Iran's loudly defiant rejection of the second round of UN sanctions may be generated by its perception about their real objective. While the language of the UN measure addresses Iran's nuclear program, the political intent, according to Nicholas Burns, is to put limits on the country's drive to become a major military power in the Persian Gulf threatening access to oil supplies needed by the world economy. Burns said,

"We are trying to force a change in the actions and behavior of the Iranian government. The sanctions are immediately focused on nuclear weapons research, but we also are trying to limit the ability of Iran to be a disruptive and violent factor in Middle East politics."

Burns has mighty fine ambitions, but he is unlikely to achieve both objectives. Pro-bowlers have advice for the 7-10 split that could be useful for the UN and for Mr. Burns. In terms of taking aim at one pin or the other, the advice is basically, don't bother trying to get both pins. Aim for the one you must make. Also, take the 7-10 split from your first ball as a warning sign that either your release on that shot was deadsville, or you are playing the lanes pretty wrong.

This is good advice. The first UN resolution produced no results except a second one. So, the UN having rolled a dead ball down the alley on the first round is now faced with which pin to aim at - Iran's nuclear program or its regional political ambitions. Frankly, my preference is go for the nukes because without them, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is just another crackpot despot with conventional arms.

Get your bowling shoes on Nick.

1 comment:

Stewart Peterson said...

What exactly would they do with Bushehr? And if they had to make the fuel themselves instead of buying it from the Russians, it would keep Natanz from producing HEU for several years.

Better yet, let's sell the Iranians five LWRs and make them manufacture the fuel, in exchange for a recognition of their enrichment program as legitimate. After all, if they want nuclear power and not nuclear weapons, they'll accept, and there's nothing wrong with a lack of free enrichment capacity.