US a Step Closer to Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Times" -- -
The United States government has imposed new sanctions on Iran,
this time targeting its shipping industry, by blacklisting the
main shipping line and 18 subsidiaries, accusing the maritime
carrier of being engaged in contraband nuclear material, a
charge vehemently denied by Iran.
While the economic impact of the measures against Islamic
Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) will be minimal in light
of the near absence of any connection between the shipping
company and US businesses, this latest US initiative against
Iran sends a strong signal about the US's intention to escalate
pressure on Iran, even unilaterally if need be. And, perhaps, it
is a prelude for more serious and dangerous actions in the near
future, above all a naval blockade of Iran to choke off its
access to, among other things, imported fuel.
The outgoing George W Bush administration is slowly but surely
taking strident actions that will effectively tie the hands of
the next US president, particularly if that happens to be
Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama, who in the past has
expressed an interest in direct dialogue with Tehran.
Should the new sanctions prove as catalysts for more aggressive
US actions against Iran in international waters or the Persian
Gulf, as called for by some members of US Congress seeking the
interdiction of Iranian cargo ships, then by the time Bush's
successor takes over at the Oval Office next January, the
climate in US-Iran hostility may have degenerated to such depths
that it would take a monumental effort to undo what appears to
be Bush's last hurrah.
On the other hand, on the eve of US presidential elections in
November, more tensions between the US and Iran are tantamount
to greater prioritization of national security issues by the
average American voter, something that benefits Obama's
Republican rival, "bomb, bomb Iran" John McCain.
Indeed, the coupling of crisis in Georgia and the Iran crisis
represents a major bonus for McCain and his "get tough" approach
toward the US's external foes.
According to American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh,
who has done several reports on US covert actions against Iran,
Bush has on more than one occasion vowed not to leave the White
House with Iran's nuclear program still intact.
With the new tensions with Russia over Georgia lessening the
prospects for fresh "multilateral" Iran diplomacy at the United
Nations this autumn, the White House has now begun a new chapter
in coercive, unilateral action against Iran that may well be
part of a comprehensive "package approach". This could include
the interdiction of Iranian ships on the high seas and even
incremental steps toward imposing a regime of "smart blockade"
aimed at denying Iran access to badly needed imported fuel.
The purpose of the latter would be to in effect target the
Iranian population by applying tangible pain that could
dissipate the popular support for the government's nuclear
policy, that is, its insistence that it has the right under the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium. Doubtless,
this is playing with fire and things could get nasty and rather
quickly, spiralling out of control in the event of a stern
As far as Washington and Tel Aviv are concerned, their efforts
to create a wedge between Iran and Syria is paying off, thanks
in part to the tireless efforts of France, and Israeli
politicians have made no secret of their hope that their
negotiations with Damascus will create a timely dividend in the
form of breathing cold air into the hitherto hot furnace of the
In Iran murmurings of "weak and reactive diplomacy" can already
be heard, thus putting the President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
administration on the defensive.
Consequently, Washington hawks increasingly smell a late
opportunity to defang Iran. They will surely have made their own
threat analysis and estimates of risks. Should their
calculations prove incorrect, it could prove disastrous with
incalculable, monstrous new headaches for the US government for
years to come.
For Iran's part, a spokesperson for IRISL has denounced the US's
measure as "illegal" and based on "false accusations", promising
to complain to international tribunals. IRISL is, in fact, a
stock-owned private company and not government owned, and the
US's action may be in violation of the terms and ambit of UN
sanctions imposed by the Security Council on Iran over its
nuclear program. For instance, these sanctions exempt the
Bushehr power plant in Iran, thus allowing the shipment of
nuclear material for the Russian-made plant nearing completion.
This means that the US might seek to seize Russian nuclear goods
bound for Iran, thus raising the ire of Moscow and using this as
a payback for Russia's offensive in pro-West Georgia.
Alternatively, the US could use the threat of such action as
leverage with regard to both Tehran and Moscow. Russia, from
Washington's point of view, needs to be brought into line on
Again, any such action by the US is bound to have both intended
and unintended consequences, and it would be foolhardy for
Washington hawks to pretend to know the full scope of the
ramifications, which could be dramatic in terms of heating up a
new cold war and outright militarizing the Iran nuclear crisis.
Tehran does not appear to welcome any new escalation with the
US. A deputy foreign minister, Mehdi Safari, announced Iran's
preparedness to engage in good-faith negotiations with the "Iran
Six" nations (the UN Security Council's permanent five - the US,
Britain, France, Russia and China - plus Germany).
Ahmadinejad is due in New York in less than two weeks to attend
the annual UN General Assembly gathering, and by all indications
the US and Israel are deliberately picking up serious momentum
in their anti-Ahmadinejad campaign, thus warranting a letter by
Iran's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, complaining of
blatant threats against Iran's president by Israeli politicians
- they even said they would kidnap him.
In conclusion, as tough new decisions on Iran are being plotted
in Washington and Tel Aviv, the fate of peace and stability in
the volatile oil region of the Persian Gulf seems once again on
the verge of being compromised in the drive towards open
confrontation with Iran.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After
Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview
Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism",
Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer
2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's
nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction. For
his Wikipedia entry, click
Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd.
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