Raising the Pressure Over Iran's Nuclear Drive

Miami Herald

Brian Siegal

December 15, 2011

Iran seems bent on confirming that it is the world’s chief bully and outlaw, the greatest threat to world peace. Its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability, support for international terrorism, and disregard for international law are crystal clear.

The international community has used diplomacy and economic sanctions to try to modify Iranian behavior. But Iran’s defiance demands stronger measures. New U.S. legislation would significantly raise the pressure.

The terrorist traits of the Iranian regime were exposed again in October, when American officials revealed an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The crime was to have taken place in a crowded, upscale Washington restaurant, and had it come off, many more would have been killed. According to government informants, attacks were also planned on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington and in Buenos Aires.

The assassination plot was “directed and approved by elements of the Iranian government” declared Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who added that “high-up officials” in agencies that are “an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot” to strike in the heart of Washington.

Then, on Nov. 8, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report stating that, while it has not yet produced a bomb, “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” This was not nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, as Iran’s government claims, but mechanisms “specific to nuclear weapons.”

The State Department called the report “comprehensive, credible, quite damning and alarming.” An Iranian nuclear weapon carried by missiles would endanger Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Israel and even Europe — not to mention cause chaos with the world’s oil supplies.

On Nov. 29, after Great Britain ratcheted up its own sanctions by banning all dealings with Iran’s Central Bank — on which the country’s oil exports depend — dozens of Iranians stormed two British embassy locations in Tehran and wreaked havoc, while several hundred more Iranians demonstrated outside, chanting “Death to Britain!” Certain that Iranian authorities were behind this breach of international law, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned of “serious consequences.”

The British shut their embassy and expelled all Iranian diplomats from London. Some European governments withdrew their ambassadors from Iran in protest. While Russia and China are unlikely to follow suit, surely the EU as a unit should call its ambassadors home, just as it did in 2009 to protest a coup that ousted the lawful government of Honduras. (The United States does not have a diplomatic mission in Iran.)

The industrialized nations must emulate the British by adopting more stringent measures against Iran’s banking system and oil industry. There is reason to believe this will have an impact. A December 2010 opinion survey by the International Peace Institute notes that, while most Iranians support the nuclear program, they consider the existing economic sanctions the country’s No. 1 external problem, and by 65 percent to 32 percent think that Iran should focus on solving its domestic problems rather than on becoming the leading power in the region.

The Menendez-Kirk Iran Sanctions Amendment, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate, would restrict American financial institutions from dealings with any foreign financial institution that knowingly does significant business with Iran’s Central Bank. It also freezes Iranian assets in the United States and requires the president to engage in diplomacy to convince other nations to cease importing oil from Iran. The United States does not, but the EU accounts for 18 percent of Iranian oil exports.

Administration attempts to weaken the sanctions before the bill becomes law failed as the amendment emerged intact from a conference committee.

President Obama should sign this into law. Menendez-Kirk, with tough sanctions and vigorous enforcement, will signal to the Iranian regime that violation of treaty obligations and Security Council sanctions in pursuit of nuclear weapons will come at an unsustainable price. And, U.S. leadership will encourage European and other nations to act similarly.

With each passing day, Iran makes further progress in it nuclear weapons program. Strong diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions can stop the momentum.

Brian Siegal is the director of the Greater Miami and Broward office of the American Jewish Committee. Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/14/2546575/raising-the-pressure-over-irans.html#ixzz1gbiNhsJO

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