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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

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30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

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30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

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29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

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08 July 2019  

A new cold war in Africa

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23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

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30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

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30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

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29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

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23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

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14 June 2019  

Postponed: Unveiling of Trump's 'deal of the century' frozen as…

on Palestine-Israel

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10 June 2019  

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08 April 2019  

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10 February 2019  

As Abbas Ages, Fatah Moves to Consolidate Power

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23 October 2018  

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19 October 2018  

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08 July 2018  

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18 May 2018  

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27 April 2018  

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12 December 2017  

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30 July 2019  

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30 July 2019  

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29 July 2019  

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17 April 2019  

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16 April 2019  

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16 February 2019  

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12 October 2018  

Ethiopia, Eritrea: An unlikely peace deal in a fractious region

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06 April 2017  

Ensuring Somalia remains in conflict: Trump’s expanded ‘war on terror’

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By Afro-Middle East Centre The 29 March decision by the administration of US president Donald Trump declaring Somalia an ‘area of active hostility’ will likely ensure an escalatio...

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10 October 2016  

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28 April 2015  

Nigeria’s elections and future challenges

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23 January 2013  

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13 December 2010  

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Iran and Sanctions

By Afro-Middle East Centre

After the passage of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1929 in June 2010, with its fourth round of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, many analysts have increased their scepticism regarding the efficacy and effectiveness of the entire sanctions regime against Iran. The scepticism is partly based on the fact that, despite three previous rounds of sanctions since 2006, the country's nuclear programme has continued unabated. Such costs as are being forced on Iran through the various levels of sanctions, not only through the UNSC but also through American-led sanctions under the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) and the recent Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), are of little more than nuisance value to the aspiring regional hegemon, and have been costs that it has been able to bear. For this reason many American think tanks and policy gurus linked to and to the left of the United States Democratic Party have put forward the idea of what has been termed a 'US-Iran Grand Bargain'. Within such a bargain, the US would engage with Iran through comprehensive talks without preconditions, with the ultimate goal of resolving bilateral differences, normalising bilateral relations and legitimising an Iranian role in the region. However, despite a strong body of opinion in the US that supports such a move, there are numerous factors militatingagainst what somehave termed a 'utopian' and 'unrealistic' proposal. The alternative that has been proposed instead of such dialogue, however, has been military action. This proposal has come mainly from role-players in the US and in Israel.

 

For this reason many American think tanks and policy gurus linked to and to the left of the United States Democratic Party have put forward the idea of what has been termed a 'US-Iran Grand Bargain'. Within such a bargain, the US would engage with Iran through comprehensive talks without preconditions, with the ultimate goal of resolving bilateral differences, normalising bilateral relations and legitimising an Iranian role in the region. However, despite a strong body of opinion in the US that supports such a move, there are numerous factors militating against what some have termed a 'utopian' and 'unrealistic' proposal. The alternative that has been proposed instead of such dialogue, however, has been military action. This proposal has come mainly from role-players in the US and in Israel.

The sanctions

While US sanctions against Iran date back to the hostage crisis in 1980 when American diplomats were held hostage by Iranian students for more than four hundred and sixty days, UN sanctions – the first of which were decided on in 2006, have their genesis in 2002. In August 2002, an Iranian dissident group claimed Iran had a secret uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched an investigation. In November 2003, it said that Iran had secretly developed technologies for eighteen years to enrich uranium, and that Iran had failed to declare many of its nuclear-related activities.

In October 2003, Britain, France and Germany negotiated an agreement with Iran known as the Tehran Declaration. This happened while the IAEA was investigating Iran's nuclear programme. Iran agreed voluntarily to suspend uranium enrichment during negotiations over its nuclear programme, fully to cooperate with the IAEA, and to implement an additional protocol as a way of building confidence in its intentions for a peaceful nuclear programme. A crucial part of the deal was Iran's agreement to provide details on its secret program over the previous eighteen years. In February 2005, negotiations halted over Iran's right to enrich uranium. The US and some European states wanted Iran to terminate uranium enrichment. Iran refused, saying enrichment was a right enjoyed by signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran had signed the NPT in 1968. The demand, claimed Iran, challenged its sovereign rights.

In the middle of 2005, after negotiations with Britain, France and Germany broke down, Iran resumed uranium enrichment. In February 2006, the IAEA Board of Governors decided to report Iran to the UNSC for non-compliance with the NPT. On July 31, 2006, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1696, the first of six resolutions to date demanding that Iran cooperate with the IAEA and halt its uranium enrichment. Iran said it was willing to talk, but would not suspend enrichment. The six UNSC resolutions included four which imposed sanctions on Iran. The six resolutions were:

  1. Resolution 1696 – 31 July 2006;

  2. Resolution 1737 – 23 December 2006 (first round of sanctions);

  3. Resolution 1747 – 24 March 2007 (second round of sanctions);

  4. Resolution 1803 – 3 March 2008 (third round of sanctions);

  5. Resolution 1835 – 27 September 2008; and

  6. Resolution 1929 – 9 June 2010 (fourth round of sanctions).

UN sanctions have progressively targeted officials, government branches and businesses linked to Iran's nuclear program and military. The resolutions have included travel bans and asset freezes on individuals, front companies, and banks. UN resolutions have also increasingly targeted the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an elite branch of Iran's military and a driver of the country's nuclear program. With each resolution, US and European powers faced mounting difficulty winning international consensus to expand sanctions against Iran, particularly from Russia and China.

The specific sanctions imposed in each of the four rounds was as follows:

 

Resolution 1737 - December 23, 2006

  • Ballistic Missiles: States were required to prevent the sale or transfer of items contributing to weapons delivery systems to Iran. Imposes asset freeze on eight individuals and companies for involvement in ballistic missile programs.1

  • Nuclear: States were required to prevent sale or transfer of items contributing to nuclear proliferation to Iran. Call on states to prevent nuclear proliferation-related training to Iranians. Asset freezes on fifteen individuals and companies.2

  • Travel: Call on states to be vigilant regarding entry to their territories of individuals affiliated with Iran's nuclear program.

 

Resolution 1747, Vote - March 24, 2007

  • Arms: States required to prohibit arms procurement and related material from Iran. Call on states to restrict supply of specified arms and combat equipment.

  • Ballistic Missiles and Nuclear: Asset freeze on individuals, companies, and banks involved in Iran's ballistic missile or nuclear activities. Call on states to restrict their entry into their territories.3

  • Banking and Finance: Asset freeze on three companies and seven individuals affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Call on states to restrict their travel.

  • IRGC/Military: Asset freeze on three companies and seven individuals affiliated with the IRGC. Call on states to restrict their travel.

  • Travel: States required to notify the Security Council Committee of entry into or transit through their territory of anyone named in Resolutions 1737 or 1747.

 

Resolution 1803 – March 3, 2008

  • Ballistic Missiles and Nuclear: Asset freeze on individuals and companies involved in Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear programmes. Call on states to restrict travel of these individuals. Extended list of banned nuclear proliferation-related items. Mandatory travel ban on five individuals named in Resolutions 1737 and 1747.4 Extended list of nuclear proliferation-related items barred from Iran.

  • Banking and Finance: Call on states to be vigilant in entering new public financial commitments with Iran. Call on states to be vigilant over Iranian bank transactions in their territories.

 

Resolution 1929 – June 9, 2010

  • Arms: States required to prevent supply of specified arms and combat equipment to Iran.

  • Ballistic Missiles and Nuclear: Iran prohibited from developing ballistic missile capabilities. States required to prevent sale or transfer of missile systems. Iran prohibited from acquiring interest in commercial activity in other states involving uranium mining, production or use of nuclear materials and weapons-related technologies. Asset freeze and travel ban on persons, companies, and banks for involvement in ballistic missile and nuclear programmes.5

  • IRGC/Military: Asset freeze on IRGC and 15 affiliated companies and organisations.

 

Effectiveness of the sanctions

In terms of the four rounds of sanctions, the UN designated a total of seventy-five organisations and forty-one individuals for their involvement in Iran's nuclear or ballistic missile programmes or for their affiliation with the IRGC. Additionally, the sanctions sought to pressure countries and firms not to buy Iranian oil and gas; pressure them not to sell or gasoline to Iran; and attempt to make it difficult for Iranian banks to interface with the world economic system. Apart from specific issues such as travel bans, it is extremely difficult to determine the effectiveness of these sanctions.

Thus far, it seems that while the sanctions have had nuisance effect on the Iranian regime, there has not been substantial effect. The additional costs forced onto Iran by the sanctions are not costs that Iran cannot bear as a country. Furthermore, the UN sanctions have neither monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance, nor punitive measures for countries not complying. Thus, even those aspects of the resolutions that 'require' states to take certain measures are actually toothless. And states such as Brazil, Turkey, (both of which voted against the last round of sanctions), India, China, and even Russia are clearly not keen to abide by all the requirements of the sanctions – especially as they relate to Iran's oil and gas. Many commentators argue that the sanctions regime is, in fact, only cosmetic; Washington gives the impression that it is doing something serious to pressurise Iran, while, in reality, it is pressure that Iran easily can bear. Many countries – even US allies – are hesitant to implement the UN resolutions for fear that such a move will have a negative impact on their economies.

The financial sanctions seem to be having a more serious nuisance effect than the other forms. Even many Iranian embassies have resorted to paying salaries with cash because Iranian banks cannot transfer money out. However, what might superficially seem to be effective is not necessarily so. Financial sanctions are not all that they are cracked up to be. For example, Iran Oil & Gas reported that from March 2009 to March 2010, Iran swapped four hundred and fifty thousand tons of petroleum products. About ninety percent of the swaps were with CIS states (probably Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan), and ten percent with Iraq. Iran is, thus, able to import refined gasoline without needing to use the international banking system. Even if an official ban on trading with Iran could be imposed, private traders and corrupt government officials would be happy to create a lucrative black market. But the stage of needing a black market has not yet been reached. Even though some major oil companies, such as Lukoil, are now not exporting gasoline to Iran, others such as Chinaoil and Sinopec (both Chinese companies) are selling directly to Iran. The global economic downturn has meant that gasoline demand has dropped – especially in Asia – and petroleum companies left with high stocks are keen to offload them.

Iran's need to import gasoline is most likely temporary. It has the means to build new refineries, and is frantically doing so. Germany's ABB Lummus has a $512 million deal with the National Iranian Oil Co. and a consortium in Iran to raise gasoline production at the Bandar Abbas refinery to about 3.5 million gallons a day from the present 1.3 million gallons. (With additional EU sanctions, this might be compromised, however.) There are ten such projects to expand existing refineries, which could allow Iran nearly to double its production of gasoline by 2012. Furthermore, Iran is investing nearly $40 billion in building seven new refineries. Thus, even if the squeeze on Iran's gasoline imports is successful, it would affect Iran for only about two years. Thereafter, Iran will be self-sufficient. It is unlikely, however, that even over the next two years such a squeeze will be successful.

As for exports, Iran does not have a difficult time getting customers. Earlier this year (admittedly, before the June UNSC resolution, and before additional EU sanctions), a Swiss company signed a deal worth $13 billion to import Iranian natural gas over the next twenty-five years.

Another interesting recent development is a deal between Venezuela and Iran. Among the agreements made, Venezuela's state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela announced it was forming a joint shipping venture with Iran in order to aid in delivering Venezuelan crude oil to Europe and Asia. This would also assist Iran due to its limited refining capacity. Both countries also agreed to construct a refinery in Syria and to cooperate in liquefied natural gas and in the petrochemical and energy sectors. And Brazil recently announced that it plans to maintain offices in Iran for its oil giant Petrobas, and will continue to invest in Iran.

Thus far, Iran has largely been evading financial sanctions through banking partners in the United Arab Emirates. Iran also has two joint banks with Venezuela. These measures provide Iran with a back door, allowing it to mitigate the effects of financial sanctions. After the June round of sanctions and the adoption of CISAD by the US, however, increasing pressure has compromised some of the relationships with the UAE partners.

Even in terms of the designated organisations, Iran has cleverly set up front companies – including in the UAE – in order to circumvent the sanctions.

Another factor that weakens the sanctions regime is that, as European companies, for example, pull out of Iran because of their countries' sanctions, Chinese and other companies step into the breach. This was the case recently, for example, when Siemens pulled out of Iran. Siemens is one of a number of multinational companies which have withdrawn from Iran recently, mainly because of a fear of losing business in the US.

Some pro-sanctions commentators are pointing to the decline in the Iranian economy as an indication that sanctions are biting. The fact is that this decline has less to do with the sanctions and more to do with weak economic policies pursued by Ahmadinejad. In September 2010, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani accused Ahmadinejad – after a fall in the value of the rial – of playing down the effects of sanctions. How much of this is true and how much is a playing-out of the Rafsanjani-Ahmadinejad rivalry is open to interpretation. What is clear is that Ahmadinejad is slowly being sidelined in Iran – with even the head of the IRGC publicly condemning him recently – with the way being cleared for a new, more competent president and leadership. Criticisms of Ahmadinejad's handling of the sanctions must be seen in this light.

There is general agreement that the sanctions regime as it exists (including previous levels of sanctions) has not achieved its core strategic objective of causing a demonstrable shift in Iran's commitment to its nuclear program.

 

Punitive measures?

The main reason that numerous countries do not abide by the UN sanctions resolutions is that there are no enforcement mechanisms, and no punitive measures for non-compliance. While the UN sanctions have no punitive measures, the US' Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA), has been successful in its punitive measures that seek to prevent states from cooperating with Iran. This was passed by the US Congress in the July of 2010 in order to deter countries from doing business with Iranian banks. If foreign banks trade with any of the sixteen targeted Iranian banks and businesses, or the IRGC, they will be denied access to the US financial system. The European Union, Japan, Australia and other Western allies have followed suit and passed their own resolutions to restrict investment in Iran's energy sector.

 

ILSA and CISADA

ILSA, now known as ISA, is targeted principally at non-US companies that provide material support to Iran. Although it authorises the US president to impose sanctions on persons he deems to be in violation of the ISA, the US has never pursued sanctions under ISA. When ISA was initially promulgated, it had limited application to Iranian gasoline dependency. So, selling Iran equipment with which is could build or expand its refineries using its own construction capabilities did not appear to constitute investment under the previous definition of ISA. Hence the rationale for CISADA – with the aim of reducing gasoline sales to Iran. Although there has been a relatively limited group of major gasoline suppliers to Iran, many in the US Congress believe that trying to stop such sales could put economic pressure on Iran's leaders. CISADA strengthens ISA by broadening the categories of transactions that trigger sanctions under the ISA. CISADA also provides for sanctions against the parent, affiliate, and subsidiary of any person determined by the president to be engaged in sanctionable activity.ISA, thus, is still fully applicable and is strengthened in some respects by CISADA, with the latter going further.

This powerful array of financial sanctions – ISA and CISADA – are legally enforceable, with CISADA allowing for an increase in criminal penalties for sanctions and defence export control violations. Whether they will be enforced is another matter. The Obama administration is hoping that just the existence of these laws and the potential for sanction will dissuade companies and countries from dealing with Iran. One victory for the US in this regard is that recent EU sanctions are becoming more aligned with those of the US. In July, for example, the EU announced new sanctions targeting Iran's foreign trade, banking, energy and transportation sectors. Such new EU sanctions forbid the sale and supply or transfer of energy equipment and technology to Iran for refining, liquefying natural gas, exploration and production, and forbid European companies from insuring or reinsuring Iranian state businesses, including its shipping industry. US sanctions, together with these EU sanctions, will have a stronger impact on Iran than the UN sanctions.

 

Possibility for negotiations between US and Iran

There is growing appreciation within the US for the fact that Iran has increasing strategic importance and confidence in its role in the region. This ultimately means that Iran cannot be regarded simply as a threat to be managed. It is definitely an international player of high importance that can profoundly undermine, or help advance, many of the most vital strategic objectives of the United States in the Middle East. Therefore, the opinion that the US should engage Iran in the quest for a strategic agreement is gaining traction. Threats of sanctions and military confrontation, according to this view, will only further isolate Iran and increase threats to US interests in the region. The alternative, the argument goes, is for US policy towards Iran rather to focus on engagement and diplomacy which aims for a US-Iranian 'Grand Bargain'. This argument has been advanced particularly by think tanks and policy gurus linked to and to the left of the Democratic Party.

The Grand Bargain, as it is envisaged, would engage the United States in comprehensive talks with Iran without preconditions on either side, and with the goal of resolving bilateral differences, normalising bilateral relations, and legitimising an Iranian role in the region. Such a deal would need to address the strategic interests both of the US and of Iran, as well as developing a cooperative approach to regional security. US interests, as discussed by the proponents of such a deal, include getting a commitment from Iran not to pursue weapons of mass destruction, end its support for groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas, end its opposition to a negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestinian issue, and modify its role in Iraq and Afghanistan in line with US interests. On the other hand, Iran's security interests lie in extending US security assurances to the Islamic Republic whereby the US would have to confirm that it is not seeking a change to the nature of the Iranian regime, but merely changes to Iranian policies, lifting US and UN sanctions against Iran, and acknowledging that Iran has a place in the regional and international order. In order to reinforce their commitments to each other, the US and Iran would have to cooperate in dealing with problems of regional security.

Such a Grand bargain would be similar to Nixon's policy of engagement with China which acknowledged that a quarter century of US policies that were aimed at weakening and isolating China did nothing to further US interests in East Asia, and that engagement would better ensure US interests. The call, then, is for Obama to reorient American policy toward Iran as fundamentally as Nixon did with China in the early 1970's.

While there are many proponents of such a policy direction, there are also those who argue that the possibility of negotiations between Iran and the US as the primary players is an elusive dream. Numerous American opponents of US-Iranian engagement have put forward the argument that the current level of hostility and divergence of interests between Washington and Tehran are simply too great to allow for a real Nixon-China type rapprochement. They argue that the best that America and Iran can do is work towards a partial easing of tensions. This would, of course, not resolve the underlying political differences between the two entities, and would result in a process that deals with each issue of conflict or cooperation separately rather than as part of a package.

The Grand Bargain idea is an attractive one because it could result in a resolution of a number of issues in one fell swoop; could end the bitter US-Iran cold war that has lasted three decades; could strengthen the idea that strong regional players have important roles to play in maintaining security and peace in their regions; and could result in a durable solution to the Israel-Palestinian question, one that is backed by the entire international community. There are many in Washington who are attracted by the idea, as there are in Iran. For Iran, such a deal would guarantee it a certain degree of access and respectability that it has not enjoyed for thirty years; would open up the world for it in a manner that would boost its economy as well as its political and diplomatic standing; and grant it the recognition as a regional power that it wants and deserves. Is it possible in the near future? I think not.

Despite a strong body of opinion in the US that supports such a move, there are numerous factors militating against it. Firstly, Obama does not have the power or backing that Nixon did. Any such move that would turn on its head decades of common wisdom; that would reject hatred (against Iran) that has been generated over years; that would require a strong president pulling Congress along with him – even if kicking and screaming, is highly improbable in the current circumstances. A weak Obama presidency (with doubt about whether he will win a second term) and a Congress that is dominated by a gung-ho opposition that is still influenced by ideas of an 'American century' and highly influenced by an Israeli lobby that wants US support for a military attack on Iran do not bode well for the Grand Bargain project. Secondly, as much as Iran wants a deal, it will likely be presented with conditions that the Americans think are obviously reasonable but which the Iranians will not be able to accept without great loss of national prestige and domestic upheaval. For example, it is unlikely that the Iranian government will be willing easily to give up its support for Hizbullah and Hamas. Apart from the fact that for Iran this is an important hand in a shaky game, there are also other repercussions that Iran would be wary to even consider. Withdrawing support from Hizbullah could send the message to other Shi'ah communities that their interests – which they believed were being served by the Iranians – are just chips that Iran can bet in a game of international diplomacy. Further, even if the Iranian government were to accept such a condition, it is doubtful that it would be able to sell it to its constituency. The IRGC, for example, has a long history with Hizbullah which it would not want easily to undermine. Furthermore, a large part of the financial support for Hizbullah comes not from the Iranian government but from religious funds (khoms) raised by individual clerics. It is unlikely that the government will be willing to tamper with the independence of the clerics in how they distribute their khoms. And, if Iran wants a deal that excludes its support of Hizbullah and Hamas, the Israeli lobby in the US will not allow the deal to proceed.

What is much more likely, however, is the possibility of smaller piecemeal agreements. These have already taken place on short-term bases. The US-Iran cooperation in both Afghanistan and Iraq are examples. The US owes more to Iran for the defeat of the Taliban than either side will likely admit. And the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein has done an enormous amount for Iranian influence in Iraq. With a US withdrawal from Iraq, that country could easily become an Iranian playground – something that was not possible seven years ago. Smaller deals – on the future of Iraq and Afghanistan, on US-Iran-Turkey strategic cooperation, on oil trading, and on the nuclear issue are realistic options. These could also help build confidence that could result – in the event of a new stronger US president who also wants to pursue engagement with Iran – in a Grand Bargain.

A Less-than-Grand Bargain is quite a realistic option. This could be one where the issues on the table are limited to: 1) the nuclear question, 2) sanctions; 3) Iraq, 4) Afghanistan, and 5) Pakistan. If the US is able to agree to allow Iran to pursue its nuclear programme, agrees to repeal its sanctions and push for the repeal of UN sanctions, Iran would be willing to cooperate with the US in the theatres of war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – theatres which could trap the US in a way that they can never win, but where, with Iranian assistance, they could optimise their interests. Allowing Iran to pursue its nuclear programme could be done in a way that is able to satisfy cautious Americans and the Israelis. For example, restarting the Brazil-Turkey initiative can give the US the guarantees it requires and will allow the Iranians not to compromise their programme and use a trusted pater (Turkey) to achieve this.

Despite the fact that many scholars and politicians have stated that the idea of a Grand Bargain is not possible in the future, it is a strategy that remains worth pursuing and is a policy option that should not be discarded. This is the case as it is becoming increasingly clear that the refusal to pursue comprehensive, strategic engagement with Iran is profoundly misguided while imposing real costs on American interests in the Middle East as well as the War on Terror. The Grand Bargain has many positive aspects as it is an approach that neither seems prudent or controversial, except to those opponents of any engagement with Iran. However, such disdain for engagement ignore an almost twenty year history of issue-specific engagement between the US and Iran and it has been the US which has declined to expand tactical cooperation on specific issues to explore possibilities for a broad-based strategic opening between the two countries. Cooperation between the US and Iran remains a very real possibility, while the efficacy and effectiveness of the only policy tool that has been used against Iran, that of sanctions, is being seriously questioned and have only served to further isolate Iran. It is for this reason that the idea of a Grand Bargain should be pursued as it is the only policy option that will embrace the country and make it feel more included and secure, as well as more willing to cooperate within multilateral forums such as the United Nations. Alongside this, the mere fact that the US and Iran share many common interests in the region proves that there is room for constructive bilateral engagement, and even if such engagement is not a possibility in the current environment, it is a tool that ultimately could be successful and should always be kept open.

 

The military option?

Military action against Iran has been threatened in various ways by both the US and Israel. Although it is not an option that is currently on the table for the US, it remains an option for Israel. The Israelis have been champing at the bit for US approval of an attack on Iran. Indications are, however, that such approval will not be forthcoming. The Obama administration believes that diplomacy and pressure through sanctions can force Iran to accede to demands regarding its nuclear programme. Nevertheless, there is a high possibility that Israel will inform the US of its intention to attack Iran only after its planes are in the air en route to Iran. The strikes will likely be targeted surgical strikes aimed at Iran's nuclear installations (probably excluding Bushehr) with the objective of sending a strong enough message to Iran but not causing damage beyond the nuclear installations. With the extreme right-wing and intransigent government that Israel currently has, and with the consistency with which that government has repeatedly humiliated the Obama administration, this scenario is not unlikely. Furthermore, Israel will receive sympathy for such an attack from both Saudi Arabia and Egypt. With two major Arab states supporting the move, the US might resort to an expression of displeasure at Israel's actions, but nothing more. The US will then likely attempt to convince Iran not to respond militarily on in any way that harms American interests. The US realises, however, that such a course of action could be disastrous not only for Israel but, more importantly, for the US itself. Indications currently are that the Iranians will regard any attack on their nuclear facilities – even if carried out secretly by Israel – as having had US approval. Iranian retaliation will be swift, and will target US interests directly. With such an attack, US interests immediately become vulnerable through Iranian control of the Straits of Hormuz, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, and any US hopes for settling the Israel-Palestinian issue will go down the tubes. The military option is one that the US cannot afford. But, the relationship between the US and Israel is so unbalanced at the moment – and with a strong pro-Netanyahu Republican contingent in Congress – that the Obama administration will simply be hamstrung and unable to bend Israel to its will. Thus far, Obama has failed to force Israel to abide by a US agenda on numerous occasions. Thus, it seems unlikely that Israeli plans for a strike on Iran will be changed because of Obama's unhappiness with such plans. A strike is quite likely by the middle of 2011.

 

Conclusion

Despite four rounds of sanctions emanating from the UNSC, as well as sanctions legislation being passed in the the US and the EU, the Iranian nuclear programme has not halted. Although these sanctions have increasingly targeted officials, government branches and businesses linked to the Iranian nuclear programme and the military, as well as including travel bans and asset freezes on individuals, front companies and banks, the lack of punitive measures or enforcement mechanisms with regards to the UN sanctions, and the reluctance to use punitive mechanisms within CISADA by Obama, have resulted in many states not abiding by the requirements of the sanctions. Thus, the sanctions regime has not achieved its core strategic objective of causing a demonstrable shift in Iranian commitment to its nuclear programme, and is not likely to do so in the near future. This opens up numerous doors to other policy options, including that of the 'US-Iran Grand Bargain', or a military strike on Iranian nuclear installations. For the US, however, if it wants to see a responsible Iran engaging in the region and to maintain US strategic interests in the Middle East, the only option open to Obama and his policy team is diplomacy, negotiations and comprehensive bilateral talks. Therefore, the US must work hard to ensure that Israel does not take the initiative and strike at Iran, even if it is a strike only at nuclear installations, a move which could have far-reaching and disastrous repercussions and consequences not only for those directly involved, but for the international arena as a whole.

 

Notes:

1 Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group, Fajr Industrial Group, General Hosein Salimi, Ahmad Vahid Dastjerdi, Reza-Gholi Esmaeli, Bahmanyar Morteza Bahhmanyar, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi.

2 Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, Mesbah Energy Company, Kala-Electric, Pars Trash Company, Farayand Technique, Defence Industries Organisation, 7th of Tir, Mohammad Qannadi, Behman Asgarpour, Dawood Agha-Jani, Ehsan Monajemi, Jafar Mohammadi, Ali Hajinia Leilabadi, Lieutenant General Mahammad Mehdi Nejad Nouri, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi.

3 Ammunition and Metallurgy Industries Group, Esfahan Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Centre, Kavoshyar Company, Parchin Chemical Industries, Karaj Nuclear Research Centre, Novin Energy Company, Cruise Missile Industry Group, Bank Sepah and Bank Sepah International, Sanam Industrial Group, Ya Mahdi Industries Group, Fereidoun Abbasi-Danavi, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, Seyed Jaber Safdari, Amir Rahimi, Mohsen Hojati, Mehrdada Akhlaghi Ketabachi, Naser Maleki, Ahmad Derakhshandeh. Affiliated with the IRGC: Qods Aeronautics Industries, Pars Aviation Services Company, Sho'a' Aviation, Brigadier General Morteza Rezaie, Vice Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, Rear Admiral Morteza Safari, Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi, Brigadier General Qasem Soleimani, General Zolqadr.

4 Amir Moayyed Alai, Mohammad Fedai Ashiani, Abbas Rezaee Ashtiani, Haleh Bakhtiar, Morteza Behzad, Dr. Mohammad Eslami, Seyyed Hussein Hosseini, M. Javad Karimi Sabet, Hamid-Reza Mohajerani, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, Houshang Nobari, Abbas Rashidi, Ghasem Soleymani, Abzar Boresh Kaveh Co., Barzahani Tejarat Tavanmad Saccal Companies, Electro Sanam Company, Ettehad Technical Group, Industrial Factories of Precision, Jabber Ibn Hayan, Joza Industrial Co., Khorasan Metallurgy Industries, Niru Battery Manufacturing Company, Pishgam (Pioneer) Energy Industries, Safety Equipment Procurement, TAMAS Company.

5 Amin Industrial Complex, Armament Industries Group, Defense Technology and Science Research Center, Doostan International Company, Farasakht Industries, First East Export Bank, P.L.C., Kaveh Cutting Tools Co., M. Babaie Industries, Malek Ashtar University, Ministry of Defense Logisitics Export, Mizan Machinery Manufacturing, Modern Industries Technique Co., Nuclear Research Center for Agriculture and Medicine, Pejman Industrial Services Corp., Sabalan Co., Sahand Aluminum Parts Industrial Co., Shahid Karrazi Industries, Special Industries Group, Tiz Pars, Yazd Metallurgy Industries, Javad Rahiqi; IRGC Entities: Fater Institute, Gharagahe Sazandegi Ghaem, Ghorb Karbala, Ghorb Nooh, Hara Co., Imensazan Consultant Engineers Institute, Khatam, al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, Makin, Omran Sahel, Oriental Oil Kish, Rah Sahel, Rahab Engineering Institute, Sahel Consultant Engineers, Sepanir, Sepasad Engineering Co.; IRISL Front Companies: Irano Hind Shipping Co., IRISL Benelux NV, South Shipping Line Iran.

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