U.S. slaps new sanctions on Iran

The Bush administration has imposed broad new economic sanctions on Iran to pressure the regime to abandon its nuclear program.

What happened

The Bush administration has imposed broad new economic sanctions on Iran to pressure the regime to abandon its nuclear program. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the sanctions were part of a comprehensive policy to confront the threatening behavior of the Iranians, including supporting terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, and pursuing technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon. Under an executive order issued by President Bush last week, it is now illegal for any U.S. citizen or company to do business with three state-owned Iranian banks or any entity connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which controls a third of the Iranian economy through its holdings in oil and gas, manufacturing, and the media. The sanctions also freeze any assets these groups have in the U.S. Iran’s government scorned the sanctions and said they would have no effect. The hostile American policies, said a spokesman for Iran’s government, are doomed to failure. Under economic pressure from America and Western Europe, Iran has already shifted much of its business to Russia and China. In Tehran this week, Iranian officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency began a final round of talks on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran says it is only seeking peaceful nuclear technology. The IAEA report, due in mid-November, will assess whether the Iranians are enriching uranium to a degree appropriate only for power plants, or whether they’re producing a purer form of uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons. So far, said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, there is no evidence that Iran is working actively on a weapons program.

What the editorials said

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Predictably, said The Washington Post, Democratic politicians and their left-wing base are decrying the sanctions as a step toward all-out war. In fact, sanctions are the best way to avoid military action. Everyone agrees that Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons; the only question is how to stop that from happening. If this targeted economic attack cripples Iran’s already struggling economy—as similar sanctions did against North Korea—a military strike will be unnecessary. It’s hard to imagine the mullahs losing much sleep over these sanctions, said National Review Online. Targeting the Revolutionary Guard rather than the entire Iranian regime—as if there is a difference between the two—only dilutes the moral force of the sanctions while opening a loophole for Iran to create new front companies that can do business freely. Even tough sanctions only make sense as a way to force countries to negotiate. But Iran has proved again and again that it has no interest in doing that, regardless of what the career bureaucrats at the State Department seem to think.

What the columnists said

Sanctions will do more damage than the mullahs would like to admit, said Ofer Bavly in The Miami Herald. Iran has vast oil reserves, but the industry can’t function without foreign investment for production and refining. And if the oil industry collapses, so does the Iranian economy. If other countries follow America’s lead, Iran’s leaders will soon be faced with a choice: Pump more billions of dollars into building weapons or feed your people. The Iranian regime wants its nukes, but it wants to survive even more. The only reason Bush approved sanctions, said Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times, is so that when it’s time to start bombing, he can claim he tried everything else first. With 15 months left in office, Bush has nothing to lose. Any resulting mess will be dumped right in the lap of his Democratic successor. You’d have to be deaf not to hear the war drums. Bush’s belligerence is playing right into the mullahs’ hands, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post. Tehran knows the U.S. is tied up in Iraq and is in no position to start another war, so it goes out of its way to taunt us. When Iran’s largely unpopular regime stands up to Bush’s saber rattling, it actually grows in stature in the eyes of its citizens.

What next?

Democratic lawmakers discovered last week that the Bush administration’s budget request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan includes $88 million for equipping B-2 Stealth bombers with 30,000-pound bunker-busting bombs. The White House told Congress the bombs were requested in response to an urgent operational need from theater commanders. You wouldn’t use them in Iraq, and I don’t know where you would use them in Afghanistan, said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) The bunker-busters would, however, be well-suited for demolishing Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, he said.

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