Now is the time to not only maintain pressure on Iran, but increase it

May 17, 2012

By Charles Guthrie, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, Kristen Silverberg and Dr August Hanning. The opinions expressed are their own.

On May 23, 2012, the chief negotiators of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany will meet their Iranian counterparts in Baghdad to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme. This follows last April’s meeting in Istanbul, when negotiations were resumed after more than a year’s inaction. This summit will test whether Iran is serious and whether concrete results can be achieved.

The strengthening of the sanctions regime over the last six years has unquestionably triggered Iran’s return to the negotiating table. Although the main measures of the new packages are not coming into force until July, their economic consequences have already made themselves felt within the country. The devaluation of the Iranian currency, the Rial, caused by years of economic mismanagement, has accelerated dramatically. The new measures against the Iranian financial system and the oil and gas industry has led to a significant drop in state revenue.

To that end the sanctions regime must be reinforced by the international community. It would be totally counterproductive to give way to political pressures to soften or end any of the sanctions that are already in place unless Iran takes steps to prove conclusively that it is not developing nuclear weapons. It is of course essential that Iran limit its nuclear enrichment program to the needs of civilian reactors.

On the sanctions front, we propose decisive action by governments in four key areas not yet covered by the existing sanctions regime.  First, Iran must be comprehensively denied access to the international banking system. An airtight international banking blockade must be imposed against all Iranian banks, so that Iran is completely cut off from the international financial system.

Second, companies worldwide should be required to disclose all investments and business transactions in Iran. They will then realise that their international reputation will suffer if they are publically known to be conducting business with the country.

Third, Iran must be denied all access to international shipping. Such a move would greatly damage the regime given its dependence on global trade and seaborne crude oil exports. The ports of the EU, U.S. and elsewhere must be closed to cargo shippers that service Iranian ports or do business with the Tidewater Middle East Co — the company, owned by the Revolutionary Guard, that handles 90 percent of Iran’s container traffic.

Fourth, the international community should dramatically increase pressure through the insurance and banking sector. Insurance companies or financial institutions that significantly support or contribute to Iran’s ability to trade should be identified and prohibited from doing business in the U.S. and the EU, and precluded from entering into reinsurance agreements with any insurers, financial institutions and companies there.  Financial institutions and insurers must also disclose substantial investments in entities that are known to either invest or conduct business transactions in Iran.

Private business must do more to support governments in imposing a stricter sanctions regime in Iran and to keep up the pressure on the country. It is in the long-term interest of European businesses to prevent a failure of the current negotiation process and the inevitable destabilisation of the Persian Gulf.  For companies, the economic and political costs of such a crisis would be much higher than those caused by voluntary restraint in dealing with Iran.

Some critics will say that the above measures are too stringent and detrimental to the Iranian people, while others will say that no amount of economic pressure can prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and so the only option is a military one. To the first group, we respond by saying that Iran’s economy is controlled by the regime (specifically Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps), which shamefully profits at the expense of the Iranian people. History has made it clear that the regime will never change course due to half-measures, only serious steps like the measure we’ve outlined have a chance of success. Iran is finally feeling a real impact from international sanctions.  Now is the time to not only to maintain the pressure, but increase it.

Admittedly, we cannot state with certainty that sanctions and pressure will ever compel the Iranian regime to change course. But it’s simply common sense that before even considering military action against a country, one should first exhaust every possible option to economically pressure it. Doing so will show the regime that the world is serious and committed, and is willing to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s potentially dire pursuit of a nuclear programme.

Image — Iran’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh briefs the media during a board of governors meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna March 8, 2012. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

Charles Guthrie, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank is the former UK Chief of the Defence Staff, Kristen Silverberg is former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Dr August Hanning is the former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Germany.


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A sustained embargo of Iran by all the worlds airlines would bring the Iranian regime to its knees. Such an embargo could be imposed by the unites States, threatening any offending airline with a permanent loss of landing rights in the US, and an equal penalty if they assist any third party airline in serving Iran. Without the “oil” of air travel, the “engine” of the regime would grind to an immediate halt.

Posted by LXOdhner | Report as abusive

This is quite the list. Can anyone tell me, if these sanctions were applied to their own country, they would not feel like it was a de facto declaration of war? Add to that the bellicose statements of pending attack that the US and Israel freely discuss in the media and I wonder how any agreement by the Iranians to limit their nuclear ambitions can be trusted? If I had the proverbial hand at my throat I would probably agree to anything … to get the hand off.

I find it humorous that we consider waterboarding not only ineffective for gaining credible information, but morally suspect. Yet, this list of actions proudly presented in the above article and including the threats of attack are considered justifiable, reasonable actions. And why is that? Because we fear that Iran will use a nuclear device against another country? That they will lose a device that will fall into the hands of terrorists?

Well, let’s look at the past for information that may guide us. The only nation to use nuclear weapons in the past 65 years is the USA. Not once, but twice. No one else has, even though many nations have had the bomb and of those nations many are supposed enemies. India and Pakistan came close in the 90’s. But, it didn’t happen. Pakistan is an Islamic society, with some parallels to Iran. Yet, no ‘terrorist’ group has detonated a nuclear weapon ‘lost’ by Pakistan.

No one doubts that nuclear weapons are a serious concern. As each new member of the nuclear club rises up to take their place, it seems that history has been that they have had the maturity to handle the awesome responsibility. Why think less of the Iranians?

Could it be that the presence of nuclear weapons has kept Pakistan and India from another war? If so, the MAD doctrine may be what keeps peace in the Middle East, not escalates war.

No one deserves to live in fear of another. Not Israel, not Iran. No one has the right to be a bully. The method being used against Iran is not only political/economic waterboarding, the supposed goal is not even achievable. If the Iranians want to acquire nuclear weapons badly enough, eventually they will.

Time to change the game.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

You are so correct. It is so close to the breaking point that it would be a shame to lose all of that momentum now.

Posted by SeaWa | Report as abusive