Iran Nuclear NewsU.S. plays its ‘unilateral’ card on Iran sanctions

U.S. plays its ‘unilateral’ card on Iran sanctions


New York Times: In announcing sweeping new sanctions against an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, Bush administration officials took pains to offer assurances on Thursday that at least for now, the United States is not going to war with Iran. The New York Times

Published: October 26, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 — In announcing sweeping new sanctions against an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, Bush administration officials took pains to offer assurances on Thursday that at least for now, the United States is not going to war with Iran.

“We do not believe that conflict is inevitable,” said R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs. “This decision today supports the diplomacy and in no way, shape or form does it anticipate the use of force.”

The move designated the Quds force of the Revolutionary Guard and four state-owned Iranian banks as supporters of terrorism, and the Guard itself as an illegal exporter of ballistic missiles. The decision thus raised the temperature in American’s ongoing confrontation with Iran over terrorism and nuclear weapons.

But it also reflected some caution by an administration that has also accused the Quds force of aiding Shiite militia attacks on American soldiers in Iraq, and has even detained some Quds force members there, but has resisted calls for retaliatory strikes inside Iran.

“This is a warning shot across the bow, not that the U.S. is going to invade Iran, but that Iran has pushed the level of escalation, particularly inside Iraq, to unacceptable levels,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In many ways, this kind of warning is more a demonstration of restraint than a signal that we’re going to war.”

Still, after 18 months in which the administration has touted the virtues of collective action against Iran by the United States and its allies, the sanctions are a major turn toward unilateralism.

The shift represents a tacit acknowledgment that the diplomatic strategy pressed most vigorously by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been ineffective, and it prompted fresh criticism on Thursday from Russia: “Why make the situation worse, bring it to a dead end, threaten sanctions or even military action?” President Vladimir V. Putin asked, in a report by Agence France-Presse.

The administration clearly hopes to enlist allies around the world in its new, tougher stance — in part because the United States, having maintained its own stiff sanctions against Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979, does not have much leverage left itself.

The administration hopes its influence can turn Iran into a political and economic pariah from which more foreign institutions will shy away.

The sanctions will “provide a powerful deterrent to every international bank and company that thinks of doing business with the Iranian government,” Ms. Rice said.

Yet officials acknowledged that past attempts to enlist allies in limiting their business ties to Iran have come up short. In each instance, they acknowledged, some other countries have partly offset the sanctions.

China, for instance, has increased trade with Iran in the past year, Mr. Burns said. And analysts pointed out that Russian, Indian, European and even Canadian companies continued to do business with many different sectors of the Iranian economy, particularly its all important oil and natural gas industries.

Ms. Rice maintained that American officials would continue to work with their European, Russian and Chinese counterparts to come up with a new set of United Nations Security Council sanctions to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

But she also said she would be willing to “meet with my Iranian counterpart anytime, anywhere,” as long as Iran first suspended its nuclear activities, a longstanding American precondition for such talks.

But Iran has shown no sign that it is remotely interested in complying with the Security Council demand that it suspend its uranium enrichment.

Indeed, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ari Larijani, whom American officials viewed as a moderate, quit last week and was replaced by Saeed Jalili, who is believed to be a supporter of Iran’s conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The United States is not accusing the entire Revolutionary Guard Corps of being a terrorist organization, a step advocated by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who voted in favor of such a measure last month and has since come under attack from antiwar members of her Democratic party. Some conservatives in the administration had also pushed for the broader declaration.

But Thursday’s announcement is still an ambitious attempt to squeeze the upper echelons of the Iranian government, including the Ministry of Defense. It is the first time that the United States has tried to use the terrorist label and the sanctions associated with it to isolate or punish another country’s military.

In Tehran, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, shrugged off Washington’s announcement, saying America’s hostile policies ran counter to international regulations and were “doomed to fail,” the official news agency IRNA reported.

Mr. Hosseini said the United States produced nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and had supported what he called terrorist groups. He called the Bush administration’s accusation that Iran was arming Shiite militias in Iraq “ridiculous.”

Israel, on the other hand, welcomed the announcement. Sallai Meridor, Israel’s ambassador to the Washington, called it “a major diplomatic step in the effort to prevent Iran — a global menace and leading sponsor of terrorism — from obtaining nuclear weapons, which threatens international peace and security.”

Four state-owned Iranian banks, Bank Melli, Bank Mellat, Bank Saderat and Bank Kargoshaee, were also cited as supporters of terrorist groups for their activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.

Nazila Fathi contributed reporting from Tehran.

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