Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: When Sanctions Hurt, Not Help | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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If the economic sanctions had not become unbearable, perhaps Iran would not have been forced to perform this political comedy, acting out its desire for reconciliation with the West and finding a solution to the nuclear issue.

The economic repercussions of the sanctions are real but not enough to force Iran to stop its nuclear project, even with the fact that its oil revenues have dropped to half of what they once were as a result of US pressure. The prevention of Iran’s use of the dollar, as well as US threats against companies dealing with Iran, has diminished the Islamic Republic’s financial capability. The subsequent lack of purchasing power has led Iran to fail to manage its domestic needs, including the need for refined petroleum.

The US administration believes that by opening the door to negotiations, it is giving Iran an opportunity to make concessions, taking advantage of Iran’s critical situation. Otherwise, why impose a financial siege if not to produce political results?

There is no doubt that negotiating for a peaceful solution is the right step to take if the new Iranian president truly wants to end this financial siege, whether he has been forced by circumstance or whether he genuinely wants peace and is ready for a political deal over the country’s nuclear project. However, all signs still suggest the opposite.

Iran is facing a difficult situation and economic hardship, but it has not yet been forced to surrender and accept the proposed deals. There are no indications that the Iranian economy is in danger of collapsing, or that the country is near bankruptcy.

Nor is there panic inside Iran, the domestic market is not in a situation that would force the government to take swift action. The problem is not with the sanctions, it will take time before their effects begin to show. The problem is that economic sanctions alone are not enough, especially as Iran is so close to completing its nuclear aims. Iran is fully capable of achieving nuclear success before facing bankruptcy.

So why is Iran so keen to negotiate? The reason is that Iranians believe that US President Barack Obama is in a tricky position. Indeed, he has already threatened them with serious action if they continue with their nuclear project, even though personally he may not want to resort to military strikes. This is why Iran has decided to resort to the carrot and stick approach with the White House, in the hope that the next two years pass without Obama asking his generals to destroy Iran’s facilities.

This is similar to the Russian stance regarding the chemical weapons in Syria. A CNN journalist asked the Russian ambassador to the United Nations if the initiative to eliminate the chemical weapons was a plan to save their ally Bashar Al-Assad from a potential US military strike. He replied saying that on the contrary, this could be seen as an initiative to allow the US president to save face. What he meant was that Obama did not want to launch military strikes on Syria, and thus the initiative served the interests of President Obama more than President Assad.

Whatever the truth is, this delay in a decisive resolution is allowing the situation to deteriorate further and further. If Iran does not feel that threats are serious, it will continue with its defiant political and military behavior. This is no theory; Iran’s history shows a long series of hostile military initiatives ranging from the Middle East to Central Africa.

Is it possible for Iran, which is on the verge of possessing the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons, to give up its hostile policy? It is not logical that Iran has simply decided to change this policy because a new president has come to power. Indeed, didn’t Rouhani himself serve as Minister of Intelligence following the revolution?