Iran Nuclear NewsU.S. seeks to offer a balm to Iran for...

U.S. seeks to offer a balm to Iran for sanctions’ sting

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New York Times: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arguing that an orchestrated series of global sanctions has brought more economic pain for Iran than its government anticipated, are making a renewed appeal to Iranian leaders to reopen negotiations on the country’s nuclear program that collapsed last year.

The New York Times

By DAVID E. SANGER

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arguing that an orchestrated series of global sanctions has brought more economic pain for Iran than its government anticipated, are making a renewed appeal to Iranian leaders to reopen negotiations on the country’s nuclear program that collapsed last year.

The administration’s renewed opening to Iran comes as evidence mounts that gasoline shipments to the country have slowed drastically, that at least some banks, from Europe to Pakistan, have cut off dealings with the country for fear that they will lose access to the United States financial system and that Iranian officials are unable to get foreign investment in a series of multibillion-dollar oil and gas projects.

Much of that evidence has been put forward by local media in the Persian Gulf region and is difficult to confirm, although officials with the United States Treasury Department say they also believe that Iran is having trouble getting investment for oil and gas projects.

Mrs. Clinton argued that “the scope and reach” of an orchestrated set of sanctions adopted over the past two months in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia “have had real bite,” and have given the West new leverage. Iran’s leadership, she argued, has “undertaken dramatic diplomatic and commercial maneuvers to prevent the sanctions from being imposed on them, but they are falling short, much to their surprise.”

But both Mrs. Clinton, in a 20-minute telephone conversation on Friday, and Mr. Obama, in an unusual assessment to editorial writers and columnists at the White House last week, acknowledged that Iranian leaders might be unwilling to give up the nuclear program — a huge source of national pride — despite the escalating cost.

“It may be that their ideological commitment to nuclear weapons is such that they’re not making a simple cost-benefit analysis on this issue,” Mr. Obama told editorial writers and columnists in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Wednesday. One of Mr. Obama’s advisers said that while Iran had indicated a willingness to start some kind of talks in September, its reaction to the sanctions “could be to speed up the nuclear program.”

Iran says that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes, a claim that many Western countries doubt.

Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s back-to-back public statements appeared part of an effort to signal to the Iranian people that the sanctions would only worsen if the Iranian government did not find what Mrs. Clinton called “a pathway” to negotiations. Mr. Obama went further, telling the columnists that he wanted “to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons.” He added, “They should know what they can say yes to.”

Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have long talked about a “two track” system of economic pressure on Iran and continued diplomatic openings. But in recent weeks, the focus has been on sanctions. Clearly, the administration has decided to re-emphasize opening diplomatic channels; Mrs. Clinton said that the United States had sent “very clear messages” to the Iranian leadership through European officials in recent weeks.

But Mr. Obama said there had been no direct communications with either President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Two secret letters sent by Mr. Obama to Mr. Khamenei last year yielded little response. The only substantive exchanges between the countries came in brief negotiations in Geneva and Vienna over sending part of Iran’s nuclear stockpile abroad for processing into fuel for making medical isotopes; that deal collapsed in weeks.

Mr. Obama reiterated that if economic pressure failed, he would use “all options available to us to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region and to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran” — often code words for suggesting a military strike remained possible. But Mrs. Clinton, who was less hawkish than she usually is when discussing Iran, argued that now that the sanctions were in place, it was time to make another attempt at a diplomatic solution.

Neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton defined with any precision what steps Iran’s leaders would need to take to build confidence that they were willing to negotiate. Other administration officials, who declined to speak on the record, cited the three major demands made by the Security Council, all of which Iran has rejected for more than four years.

They include a full suspension of all enrichment of uranium, halting work on a heavy-water reactor at Arak that could provide Iran with fuel for more sophisticated nuclear weapons, and complete access for international inspectors to locations, documents and scientists believed related to suspected weaponization work.

These days, American officials appear to be spending almost as much time trying to assess the impact of economic sanctions as they are measuring Iran’s nuclear progress. So far the results are largely anecdotal, but telling.

Many of the United Nations sanctions focus on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which runs the nuclear program and has increasing sway over the country’s politics. For several years a company controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, Khatam al-Anbiya has been seeking investors for a key part of the South Pars oil and gas fields.

But the company was named in the United Nations resolution, and not long ago Iran announced that the company was withdrawing from the project, presumably because its involvement was blocking foreign investors. Another firm, which American officials also suspect of links to the Revolutionary Guards, has taken over, but so far there have been no investors. Iranian officials have been quoted in the Iranian press as estimating that the country needs $25 billion to $35 billion to develop a number of oil fields.

While the United Nations resolutions did nothing to block the shipment of refined gasoline into Iran — a step China strongly opposed — the series of sanctions issued by a number of countries in recent weeks appeared to have blocked some of those shipments.

According to the White House, eight major companies, including Lukoil, Royal Dutch Shell and Total, have also issued public statements that they have halted supplies of gasoline.

While Iran imports about 40 percent of its refined petroleum, it anticipated the sanctions and stockpiled gasoline; it is unclear whether the cutoffs could eventually result in shortages.

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