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August 03, 2009

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Has Iran done anything wrong that would justify sanctions or are we talking about trying to ruin the lives of hundreds of millions of foreigners just because their government won't do what we want? Not that there's anything wrong with telling people "do what I want or I'll crush you" but I wish we could dispense with the sanctimonious moral preening at least.

One example showing how desperately the regime is looking for enemies to demonize:
Iranian state media try to paint the murder of an Egyptian woman by a racist German in a German courtroom* as engineered by the German government, maybe personally by chancellor Merkel herself.

*she had sued him for repeated racist harassment. In court he suddenly pulled a knife and stabbed her multiple times before the present security could subdue him

But, but, but....look how well our draconian sanctions policy worked in the case of Castro's Cuba.

Bobbyp, we just need to give it another few decades to work. It's already driven Fidel from the presidency, hasn't it?

Publius, what do you expect Congress to do?

Obama wants to try to negotiate with Iran. Obama says that if Iran doesn't respond to his entreaties by the "fall," there will be serious consequences. One serious consequence is substantial (and coordinated) sanctions -- indeed, if Iran fails to respond to Obama's open hand, the Europeans are probably willing to play ball with us on this one.

All of this is triple super phosphate fine to me: talk softly and carry a big stick and all that.

The fall is rapidly approaching. Congress is about to go on an approx. month-long hiatus, to basically return in September. If Obama's soft threat is going to credible, it's it necessaryl for some in Congress to begin talking about sanctions now? If Congress stays silent, Obama's strategy consists only of words, and the Iranians have no incentive to accept his offer of dialog. (Indeed, the irony is that arguing for sanctions now probably makes it more likely that the Iranians will accept Obama's offer sooner rather than later [assuming that they desire to accept the offer at all].)

Pentagon Eyes Accelerated Bunker Buster Bomb ...Reuters

July 2010, hopeObamachange in time for the midterms

Publius, what do you expect Congress to do?

How about not threatening countries with sanctions without explaining what they've done wrong? Would that be too much to ask?

Or is merely disagreeing with the United States now sufficient justification for siege warfare? I hope you start disagreeing with me soon von; otherwise the Turbulent Congress might have to consider cutting your house's gas, water, sewage, and electrical lines. I mean, if I don't threaten you, then all I've got is "just words" and that's obviously not sufficient.

von

I have to say, the possibility that Obama's vague threats may look less credible doesn't really worry me as much as crushing Iran's ongoing revolution.

Plus, given the facts on the ground, I don't think authoritarian regimes will read too much into a withdrawn threat.

Turbulence, have you been following this issue at all? Because there is a really simply answer to:

How about not threatening countries with sanctions without explaining what they've done wrong? Would that be too much to ask?

Iran must comply with UN Security Resolution 1737 and cease enriching uranium. Thus far, Iran has refused, and has accelerated its enrichment efforts (as well as taken steps to hide the fully scope of its program*). Iran has also refused compromise positions, which permit it to continue to receive enriched uranium via third-party providers.

*It's worth noting that Iran has repeatedly misled the IAEA regarding its enrichment efforts.

Sanctions are always for domestic consumption. They give us a chance to feel sanctimonious. They almost never have the stated effect, most of the time they just add fuel to the feeling of being an embattled nation, and that is useful to the powers that be in the target country.

If Obama's soft threat is going to credible, it's it necessaryl for some in Congress to begin talking about sanctions now?

I think it's OK for congress to talk about sanctions, although I don't see what the rush is - why not start to talk about it in the fall? It is ridiculous for us to pretend that we 'have no choice'. In fact, we have a lot of choices. The problem here is that there are some in congress who think sanctions (and even a military strike) are a good idea no matter what - and they are a terrible idea.

We hold many cards. We define and can re-define the terms of any conflict. Why does the greatest superpower the world has ever known so often act as if we are 'forced' to do this or that? I wonder...

Iran must comply with UN Security Resolution 1737 and cease enriching uranium.

That's the spirit. Nuclear weapons should be thought of as a privilege, available only to democratic, peace-loving countries that play by the rules.

Is there clear-cut demonstration anywhere that things like that UN resolution are in line with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? It wouldn't be the first time countries with power have demanded that others not be allowed to do things the treaty says they can. I can find arguments that Iran's been in violation of some provisions, but the IAEA did not achieve consensus on it, and it looks like a lot of the same sort of cherry-picking of de-contextualized results that the US engaged with with regard to Iraq.

I absolutely oppose any action on sanctions against Iran without evidence convincing to a majority of the nations and agencies that were right about Iraq. And even then I wouldn't trust them planned or executed by anyone in the US who was wrong about Iraq. Which pretty well does let out our military-legislative axis, yes.

Gee, the Iranians insist on their right to manufacuture their own nuclear reactor fuel because they are concerned about energy blackmail in the form of fuel cutoffs and sanctions ... and here we are, proving them right by threatening to cut off their energy imports. No wonder they don't trust us when we promise to sell them all the nuclear fuel they need, and instead insist on making their own.

Thus far, Iran has refused, and has accelerated its enrichment efforts (as well as taken steps to hide the fully scope of its program*).

You say Iran has taken steps to hide the scope of its program. Do we know this with as much confidence as we knew that Iraq was hiding WMD programs or do we know this with less confidence? Actions have consequences and loss of credibility is a consequence of incompetence and dishonesty.

Iran has also refused compromise positions, which permit it to continue to receive enriched uranium via third-party providers.

Refusing to trust third parties seems like reasonable behavior given how the United States acts and how much influence it has over nuclear suppliers.

These kinds of sanctions are not even intended to influence the behavior of the regime being nominally targeted. They are strictly posturing by politicians for their domestic audience.

The only kind of sanctions that work are
1) those which cut off the governing elite's foreign accounts, travel, etc., or
2) those which have an enforcement mechanism which will successfully stop specific items from getting into the country. Items which are important to the rulers, but are not necessary for the population as a whole.
In either case, the rulers have to be impacted, but not the general population.

This proposal does neither. In fact, it has exactly the wrong impact: hitting the population, but not the rulers that they already do not much care for. Dumb -- what else can be said of it.

Turbulence, you're shifting. You asked "How about not threatening countries with sanctions without explaining what they've done wrong? Would that be too much to ask?" I pointed out that Iran continues to be in violation of UN SC Res. 1737. Rather than ask more questions and try to shift the topic, it's incumbent on you to respond to my answer in some way. For example, you could explain why Iran's continuing violation of UN SC Res. 1737 -- which you apparently didn't know about until this thread -- is meaningless.

Uncle Kvetch, if you think that Israel should be deprived of nuclear weapons then you absolutely must believe Iran should be as well. You are consistent, right?

Ceri B, if a country is free to disregard a UN Resolution because it believes it to be in conflict with some other source of law --- no matter how fanciful -- then there is no point to having UN resolutions.

FTR, I don't want Iran to get a nuclear weapon -- and if I thought these sanctions could stop that regime from getting one, I'd be for it.

But it probably won't -- like publius says, it will only make the people who want a nuclear weapon, and would be particularly dangerous with one, all the more powerful.

Plus there's a pretty good case*">http://www.newsweek.com/id/199147">case* that Iran's consensus for a nuclear program can be more than reasonably dealt with.

*I'm really hoping this link works -- the article talks about the regime, but I think the reasoning better applies to Iran's general support for a nuclear program. (And I may write more on this distinction later.)

Oh, and johnnybutler makes a good point (at 10:07).

Uncle Kvetch, if you think that Israel should be deprived of nuclear weapons then you absolutely must believe Iran should be as well. You are consistent, right?

Yes, von, I'm consistent. My government, however, is not. That was, y'know, my point.

These kinds of sanctions are not even intended to influence the behavior of the regime being nominally targeted. They are strictly posturing by politicians for their domestic audience.

I probably wouldn't say 'strictly', but would use the words 'mostly', 'almost entirely', or 'essentially'. I suspect there are people who think these kinds of sanctions are a good idea for the explicit reasons given (they're wrong, but sincere).

A great power diminishes itself by conducting its foreign policy the way an adolescent would (i.e. 'it's all about me' ie domestic politics). That is weakness, and it looks like weakness to everyone else. von raises a legitimate question, but I think the answer is that diplomacy is only superficially about posturing, and is really about getting what you need/want and-or getting what you can live with. A united United States can pretty much do what it wants to in this situation. Also, wj makes very good points about which kinds of sanctions work. (I'd like to see the 'elite' ones levied onto the golpistas in Honduras, btw).

There are strong similarities between the Iranian Government and the US Republican party: both are striven by dissent, plummeting in popularity, run by increasingly theocratic strongmen, etc.

When your opponent is destroying itself, the single best thing to do is nothing. Let the next Iranian revolution play itself out over the next year or two and do nothing except make statements encouraging the fullest expression of the democratic process.

I think the mistake is to take on the issue as an American one: a nuclear armed Iran is more of a threat to other regional actors and countries, and Europe as a whole, than it is to us. It is the same reason we should not be drawn into two party talks with N. Korea: it simply accepts the responsibility for resolution as being an American one, rather than a regional one. And accepts the responsibility for the inevitable failure as well, leaving us in a position to either double down, on walk away as impotent.

We have enough on our plate: we should simply refuse to engage, and let those countries that could actually be threatened by a nuclear armed Iran lead the charge.

Turbulence, you're shifting. You asked "How about not threatening countries with sanctions without explaining what they've done wrong? Would that be too much to ask?" I pointed out that Iran continues to be in violation of UN SC Res. 1737. Rather than ask more questions and try to shift the topic, it's incumbent on you to respond to my answer in some way. For example, you could explain why Iran's continuing violation of UN SC Res. 1737 -- which you apparently didn't know about until this thread -- is meaningless.

I did know about it, but thanks for making ignorant comments about my state of mind. Many countries violate UNSC resolutions and in general it does not seem to trouble us much, so I'm unclear on why this case is special. Especially since the US has consistently pushed for harsh sanctions against Iran long before nuclear materials were an issue. Beyond that, the conduct of the UNSC raises serious questions about the legitimacy of this particular resolution. I mean, the UNSC also made various resolutions about Iraq that were, in hindsight, not so good, right? The UNSC completely failed to deter an unwarranted war of aggression by the US. Given that the UNSC is structurally dominated by nuclear powers that have abandoned any pretense to following their commitment to disarm, I'm not sure why we should take UNSC resolutions on this particular topic very seriously.

If we're going to talk about responsibilities to respond von, you haven't addressed any of the points I raised in the second paragraph of my comment here and here. I think it is incumbent on you to respond.

I did know about it, but thanks for making ignorant comments about my state of mind. Many countries violate UNSC resolutions and in general it does not seem to trouble us much, so I'm unclear on why this case is special.

Turb, how was I supposed to know that you already knew the answer to your question: "How about not threatening countries with sanctions without explaining what they've done wrong? Would that be too much to ask?" Your rhetorical questions had an easy answer: UNSC Res. 1737. And, no, I do not agree with your claim that "[m]any countries violate UNSC resolutions and in general it does not seem to trouble us [the US] much" -- particularly when the violation concerns nuclear proliferation and the US votes in favor of the resolution. Could you help me out with a recent example?

Von, I do believe that as a matter of principle, whenever the UN resolves to remove individual nations' rights established under treaties and in particular to do so without any compensation or consideration beyond "this time maybe we won't invade you", nations absolutely should tell the UN to go piss up a rope. Such actions on the UN's part weaken the usefulness of international diplomacy and play into the hands of those most interested in being conquerors and latter-day warlords, and are rightly scorned.

If treaties like the NNPT are not allowed to inconvenience the great powers, then we should go ahead and withdraw from them and stop pretending. Until then, we should heed them even when some of our authorities and their cheerleaders would rather not.

The US is already responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of ruined lives, and we're not even out of the first decade of the new century. I think that not making that sort of action again should be a really high priority.

von

Just FTR, do you have any issue with publius' overall argument?

If we're going to talk about responsibilities to respond von, you haven't addressed any of the points I raised in the second paragraph of my comment here and here. I think it is incumbent on you to respond.

Some of your questions have already been answered, Turb. But here goes.

[W/r/t Iran] How about not threatening countries with sanctions without explaining what they've done wrong? Would that be too much to ask?

As discussed, UNSC Res 1737 (and related resolutions). (The IAEA has a detailed section on its website describing the particulars of Iran's noncompliance: http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/index.shtml.)

Or is merely disagreeing with the United States now sufficient justification for siege warfare?

I don't know what you mean by "siege warfare." Do you mean economic sanctions, i.e., the US refuses to trade with country X?

You say Iran has taken steps to hide the scope of its program. Do we know this with as much confidence as we knew that Iraq was hiding WMD programs or do we know this with less confidence?

1. Unlike the case of Iraqi WMDs, Iran admits to enriching uranium in substantial quantities -- enough to build multiple warheads. An important piece of the puzzle that was missing as to Iraq is indisputably present as to Iran.

2. It has been reported since at least 2007 that Iran could build a nuclear bomb within a year, if it so chose. (2007 mention of IAEA's report: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article2879741.ece; Report from yesterday: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/world/uk/Iran-waiting-for-Khameneis-order-to-build-N-bomb-Report/articleshow/4853543.cms).

3. Iran previously hid its enrichment program, admitting its existence only after it was caught by the IAEA and other groups. For example, http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2003/gov2003-40.pdf

4. Unlike much Iraqi intelligence, the anonymous intelligence reports largely mirror the on-the-record statements of international authorities. Compare, for instance, the two sources mentioned in item #2.

Refusing to trust third parties seems like reasonable behavior given how the United States acts and how much influence it has over nuclear suppliers.

The third parties in question here are the IAEA and the UN Security Council, not the "US".

Just FTR, do you have any issue with publius' overall argument?

I think Publius is not communicating the actual strategy. I agree that US only sanctions are unlikely to be effective by themselves. But any multinational sanctions will require US leadership and a belief by other parties (primarily, the Europeans) that the US has exhausted the potential for negotiation. The current approach has both elements: The US is describing particular sanctions that it would employ and President Obama has reached out to Iran. Both elements are critical to the sucess of the whole.

von

A fully international vs US only sanctions only covers the question of whether "sanctions could be perfectly enforced" as publius terms it.

The real concern at this point isn't enforcement, it's whether the policy would strengthen the very people we're trying to contain.

Unlike the case of Iraqi WMDs, Iran admits to enriching uranium in substantial quantities -- enough to build multiple warheads.

Um, I don't think so Von. Iran does not have enough HEU to build one, let alone multiple warheads.

It has been reported since at least 2007 that Iran could build a nuclear bomb within a year, if it so chose.

While these stories are HIGHLY dubious (link
), it should be noted (ex arguendo) that if Iran has had this capacity for two years and has thus far chosen not to act on it, perhaps that is an indication of its intentions?

Unlike much Iraqi intelligence, the anonymous intelligence reports largely mirror the on-the-record statements of international authorities. Compare, for instance, the two sources mentioned in item #2.

This is just not true. Many of ElBaradei's and other officials' statements have been twisted and gerrymandered. But the international authorities have been consistent in stating that there is no evidence that Iran has a weapons program.

A fully international vs US only sanctions only covers the question of whether "sanctions could be perfectly enforced" as publius terms it.

No sanction is perfectly enforced, but multilateral sanctions have been effective -- both individually and combined with other structures: http://books.google.com/books?id=R6GqyV-Nc1AC&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=multilateral+sanction+effective&source=bl&ots=sHQC-fa3fs&sig=nlFGeOcwDjmz__dH8aOYm1IhCz4&hl=en&ei=vDF3Sp-qG4akMdrtgbEM&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#v=onepage&q=multilateral%20sanction%20effective&f=false.

Um, I don't think so Von. Iran does not have enough HEU to build one, let alone multiple warheads.

Eric, that's why Iran is a year away from a nuclear weapon as opposed to 6 months: Iran has sufficient quantities of enriched uranium such that it only requires six months to create sufficient HEU for one or more nuclear bombs. (My phrasing was a bit unclear, however: although we can not say that Iran has no HEU, there is no evidence to support the claim that it has HEU.)

While these stories are HIGHLY dubious (link
), it should be noted (ex arguendo) that if Iran has had this capacity for two years and has thus far chosen not to act on it, perhaps that is an indication of its intentions?

No. For example, the regime may want to be in a position in which it can pursue a nuclear weapon on multiple fronts in order to avoid the risks of an Israeli military strike on a single (or a relative few) locations.

Eric, that's why Iran is a year away from a nuclear weapon as opposed to 6 months: Iran has sufficient quantities of enriched uranium such that it only requires six months to create sufficient HEU for one or more nuclear bombs.

Von, that's the same type of circular reasoning - without evidence - that led to the Iraq debacle.

You are relying on a (recycled!) story in the Times (risky endeavor in its own right) that cites unverified, anonymous "intelligence" sources.

And you treat it as gospel? Come on, we can do better. This story has been written several times over the past few years. Eventually it might turn out to be true, but drown it in salt. None of the international bodies have corroborated this.

This is just not true. Many of ElBaradei's and other officials' statements have been twisted and gerrymandered. But the international authorities have been consistent in stating that there is no evidence that Iran has a weapons program.

You are going to have to provide some evidence to support that: what was twisted? What was gerrymandered (and how do you gerrymander a statement)?

Also, although you have disputed the accuracy of Times of India's 2009 report,* your haven't addressed the IAEA's estimate in 2007 that Iran is within a year of developing a nuclear weapon.

*I don't know whether you're right or not -- and, candidly, neither are you -- but you have argued that the ToI's report should not be trusted.

although you have disputed the accuracy of Times of India's 2009 report,* your haven't addressed the IAEA's estimate in 2007 that Iran is within a year of developing a nuclear weapon

Where is this IAEA report?

von

The reason I borrowed that phrase from publius was to bring back the conversation to his main point.

The real concern at this point isn't enforcement, it's whether the policy would strengthen the very people we're trying to contain.

So: Just FTR, do you have any issue with publius' overall argument?

You are going to have to provide some evidence to support that: what was twisted?

When you show me the IAEA report/predictions, I can show you how.

Such an embargo would require a naval blockade of shipping into Iranian ports.

The last time this was suggested - last May when Israel's Ehud Olmert suggested the U.S. impose such an embargo and then AIPAC shills Gary Ackerman and Mike Pence introduced H. CON. RES. 362 in the U.S. House - every progressive commentator pointed out that such an embargo done without a UN resolution to back it would be an unequivocal act of aggressive and illegal warfare under international law.

You won't find much mention of that inconvenient fact from Dem-supporting writers today. The emphasis is on the slim chance that Russia and China would vote for such a blockade at the UN Security Council and therefore the US would have to put together a "coalition of the willing" to act without a UNSC resolution. Of course, now it would be an Obama administration carrying out that illegal act of war, not a Bush administration. Such are the pleasures of partisan punditry.

Too, no-one is mentioning (as they did last May) the severe repercussions of attempting such a blockade. Try looking up "Colonel Sam Gardiner".

Regards, Steve

Von,

My post on that 2007 IAEA report:
http://cernigsnewshog.blogspot.com/2007/11/dishonest-reporting-and-irans.html

"Every single [media report] gives the implicit impression that it is the IAEA itself which has warned Iran could suddenly produce a nuke in a years time.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The report mentions nothing whatsover about a timeline to produce enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon - unsurprising since the report does say that Iran has only managed low-level enrichment barely adequate for reactor fuel so far, and that the 3,000 centrifuges are running way below capacity. Dr. Jeffrey Lewis and others have calculated 20% efficiency and suggest problems with contaminated feedstock - which means multiplying that timeline by five!

What the report does say is that all of the enriched uranium produced to date "remains under Agency containment and surveillance" and that the centrifuge cascades themselves are subjected to an annual audit by the IAEA and surpise inspections - seven have been carried out since March.

That means - it is impossible for Iran to use these 3,000 centrifuges and their product to secretly make a nuclear weapon."

From the NYTimes, Dec 4, 2007:

“Despite repeated smear campaigns, the I.A.E.A. has stood its ground and concluded time and again that since 2002 there was no evidence of an undeclared nuclear weapons program in Iran,” a senior agency official said. “It also validates the assessment of the director general that what the I.A.E.A. inspectors have seen in Iran represented no imminent danger.”

That is, by the way, still the case.

"VIENNA (Reuters)[july 3, 2009] - The incoming head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday he did not see any hard evidence Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear arms.

"I don't see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this," Yukiya Amano told Reuters in his first direct comment on Iran's atomic program since his election, when asked whether he believed Tehran was seeking nuclear weapons capability."

Regards, Steve

You are going to have to provide some evidence to support that: what was twisted?

Here are some examples

As discussed, UNSC Res 1737 (and related resolutions). (The IAEA has a detailed section on its website describing the particulars of Iran's noncompliance: http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/index.shtml.)

Great, now, can you point out where in the NYT article was made any mention of such resolutions? Part of my point here is that is really bizarre that the paper of record can write a whole article about the need to impose (yet another) sanctions regime against our enemy of the week without even explaining why such sanctions are needed. And no, merely alluding to the need to negotiate a nuclear program is not sufficient: there are many issues that many countries feel compelled to negotiate but sanctions are not appropriate in general.

I might not care that the paper of record has completely internalized the notion that the US must act with extreme hostility to Iran without even bothering to explain why if the US hadn't just invaded Iran's neighbor and killed a million people.

I don't know what you mean by "siege warfare." Do you mean economic sanctions, i.e., the US refuses to trade with country X?

The sanctions under discussion involve pressuring other countries to stop trading refined petroleum products with Iran so describing them as merely having the US refuse to trade with Iran would be grossly misleading.


1. Unlike the case of Iraqi WMDs, Iran admits to enriching uranium in substantial quantities -- enough to build multiple warheads. An important piece of the puzzle that was missing as to Iraq is indisputably present as to Iran.

I think your presentation here is extremely deceptive. Iran admitted to enriching Uranium to the standard needed for civilian reactors. Iran has never admitted to enriching Uranium to the degree needed for weaponization let alone a sufficient quantity needed to build multiple warheads. Iran is entitled to enrich for civilian purposes. Inventing lies about them does not alter this fact.

2. It has been reported since at least 2007 that Iran could build a nuclear bomb within a year, if it so chose. (2007 mention of IAEA's report: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article2879741.ece; Report from yesterday: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/world/uk/Iran-waiting-for-Khameneis-order-to-build-N-bomb-Report/articleshow/4853543.cms).

I'm with Eric on this. You've got nothing except scaremongering. If you want to cite the IAEA report, you need to give us a verifiable quote rather than curveball-like guesses about what it must say.

3. Iran previously hid its enrichment program, admitting its existence only after it was caught by the IAEA and other groups. For example, http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2003/gov2003-40.pdf

That might be a violation of the non-proliferation treaty, in which case one could seek punitive measures as specified in the NPT for violations. By the way, what are those? Moreover, presumably Iran could simply withdraw from the treaty in which case there would be no basis whatsoever for imposing punitive sanctions.

"Anyway, I’m hoping someone can convince me that new sanctions are a good idea."

But the story doesn't say "Momentum in Congress seems to be gaining for new sanctions against Iran that would cut off its imports of refined gasoline," as you claim it does. It says "The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama’s offer to negotiate on its nuclear program...."

Italics mine.

These are two entirely different things, and should be judged by entirely different standards.

I'd definitely oppose such sanctions for no reason.

As a negotiating option, should that option be considered/i>, that's an entirely different question.

Both Sanger's piece and Maloney's testimony seem to do a good job of presenting both pros and cons of considering the option of the stick as well as the carrot, the on-the-one-hand and the on-the-other-hand.

I wouldn't presume to know more than either, so I wouldn't prefer to go beyond either at this time, myself.

"But, but, but....look how well our draconian sanctions policy worked in the case of Castro's Cuba."

That's simply not an argument that sanctions never are useful. Economic sanctions have, at times, been useful, along with offering carrots, in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table.

Economic sanctions against Syria have been useful in encouraging them to negotiate.

Also, you are completely blurring the absolutely crucial distinction between sanctions-as-a-negotiating-tactic-towards-a-specific-goal, and sanctions-to-overthrow-a-regime. Sanctions are unapt to lead to regime change per se, but as a tool to simply encourage negotiations, or be part of the trade-offs during a negotiation for a specific goal, can and have been useful at times. Situations vary.

This is specifically what Maloney says as regards Iran.

And Sanger brings up the point that considering gasoline sanctions as a tool are useful in persuading Israel not to engage in military options.

Both Sanger and Maloney point out that a crucial issue is whether or not third parties such as Russia and China could be persuaded to go along with such gasoline sanctions; if they can't, they'd be a useless threat. If they can, Maloney says:

[...] Perhaps the critical factor in the success of the 1981 conclusion to hostage negotiations was the Iraqi invasion and Iran’s desperate need for economic and diplomatic options to sustain the defense of the country. In a similar respect, any U.S. effort to negotiate with Tehran would benefit from the identification of incentives and counterincentives that can similarly focus the minds of leaders and expedite the path for negotiators.

In this respect, there is a direct and mutually reinforcing relationship between the act of engagement and the identification of potential sanctions to be applied by the international community if Iran chooses to persist with noncooperation. The threat of sanctions may be the only effective means of persuading Iran’s increasingly hard-line leadership that their interests lie in restraining their nuclear ambitions and cooperating with their old adversary in Washington.

In short, it's a complicated set of trade-offs to consider, including the trade-off that further sanctions could, on the other hand, simply lead to further solidarity by ordinary Iranians with their governent.

Bottom line, it's not a question reducible to bumper stickers about not being able to overthrow the government of Cuba.

That's simply not an argument that sanctions never are useful. Economic sanctions have, at times, been useful, along with offering carrots, in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table.

I'm not bobbyp, but I don't think people mention Cuba to claim that sanctions are never useful. Rather, the case of Cuba is useful for demonstrating that the US foreign policy establishment and political institutions are too immature and simple minded to be trusted with sanctions. I mean, if the US government can't end sanctions against Cuba even after decades of failure, why should we have any confidence that the US government would be willing or able to end sanctions against Iran if Iran did everything we wanted? And if we have no such confidence, then isn't it profoundly unethical to enact sanctions against Iran?

For that matter, does anyone believe that our current sanctions policy against Iran make sense? We've had sanctions against them ever since the hostage crisis and Clinton intensified those sanctions to the point that Iranian scientists can't even get published in IEEE journals. We've gone to great efforts to make people in Iran miserable because their government is does evil and stupid things but at no greater rate than lots of governments we don't sanction. Has Iran done anything to merit the current sanctions beyond embarrassing the United States and making us feel impotent? If there is no rational basis for the current set of sanctions, how can it be ethical to talk of imposing new sanctions?


Also, you are completely blurring the absolutely crucial distinction between sanctions-as-a-negotiating-tactic-towards-a-specific-goal, and sanctions-to-overthrow-a-regime.

I'm sure this line is very apparent to you and to many experts. However, since you and various Iran experts don't make policy, it doesn't really matter. What matters is whether Congress is willing and able to make this distinction. I have difficulty understanding the rational basis for many of the current sanctions against Iran, but perhaps you can explain: what is the specific non-regime change goal of the sanctions currently in place against Iran?

"Iran must comply with UN Security Resolution 1737 and cease enriching uranium."

Von, I conveniently have the resolution right here, and it doesn't quite say what you say.

The relevant portion says that:

[...] 2. Decides, in this context, that Iran shall without further delay suspend the
following proliferation sensitive nuclear activities:
(a) all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA;
It's true that Iran is not engaging in such delay, but a delay is not a permanent ceasing. The resolution proceeds to outline what Iran can do to get lifted the delay the resolution imposes.

Iran has a right to enrichment under the NPT. Neither, I'll point out again, for the record as regards general alarmism, are there any affirmative indications at this time that Iran is engaging in enrichment anywhere near weaponizing levels.

And as others point out, we're not in fulfillment of our obligations to the NPT, either.

(I'll not bother to go through the extremely long list of other violations in the last fifty years by the U.S., even more blatantly, of treaty violations, since the general idea of treaties, is, of course, that countries in general should oblige by them.)

"These kinds of sanctions are not even intended to influence the behavior of the regime being nominally targeted. They are strictly posturing by politicians for their domestic audience.

The only kind of sanctions that work are [...] enforcement mechanism which will successfully stop specific items from getting into the country."

Um, that's what's proposed: seeking an enforcement mechanism to severely limit gasoline, a specifici item, from getting into Iran.

Von: "Ceri B, if a country is free to disregard a UN Resolution because it believes it to be in conflict with some other source of law --- no matter how fanciful -- then there is no point to having UN resolutions."

I don't see why this is true, and besides, Iran is clearly and obviously within its rights to enrich under the NPT; specifically, this:

[...] Article IV

1. Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.

Moreover, a closer look at the issue of Iran's compliance with UN Resolution 1737 shows that the issue is, in fact, complicated, and not merely a matter of Iran not complying:

[...] Iran is a signatory state of the NPT and has recently (as of 2006) resumed development of a uranium enrichment program. The Iranian government states its enrichment program is part of its civilian nuclear energy program. This is allowed under Article IV of the NPT. In 2005, the IAEA Board of Governors found Iran in noncompliance with its NPT safeguards agreement in an unusual non-consensus decision,[15] after which the Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend its enrichment.[49]

In November 2003 IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei reported that Iran had repeatedly and over an extended period failed to meet its safeguards obligations, including by failing to declare its uranium enrichment program.[14] After about two years of EU3-led diplomatic efforts and Iran temporarily suspending its enrichment program,[50] the IAEA Board of Governors, acting under Article XII.C of the IAEA Statute, found in a rare non-consensus decision with 12 abstentions that these failures constituted non-compliance with the IAEA safeguards agreement.[15] Iran resumed its enrichment program after being referred to the Security Council.[51] The United States concluded on this basis that Iran violated its Article III NPT safeguards obligations, and further argued based on circumstantial evidence that Iran's enrichment program was for weapons purposes and therefore violated Iran's Article II nonproliferation obligations.[52]

So the Security Council has not, to my knowledge, subsequently claimed that Iran is in violation of 1737. Do you have information that the Security Council, rather than the U.S. government, has made such a claim?

jrudkis: "I think the mistake is to take on the issue as an American one: a nuclear armed Iran is more of a threat to other regional actors and countries, and Europe as a whole, than it is to us. It is the same reason we should not be drawn into two party talks with N. Korea: it simply accepts the responsibility for resolution as being an American one, rather than a regional one."

Again, that's not what's under proposal; if Russia and China don't sign on, we can't impose remotely useful gasoline sanctions, so unilateral sanctions by the U.S., which doesn't sell gasoline to Iran in the first place, aren't at question.

"(The IAEA has a detailed section on its website describing the particulars of Iran's noncompliance: http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/index.shtml.)"

Von that's a link to an index of over one hundred articles. Please provide a link to the one you are referring to, so we can read it, rather than spend the next few months reading all of them. Thanks.

"Unlike the case of Iraqi WMDs, Iran admits to enriching uranium in substantial quantities -- enough to build multiple warheads."

This is absolutely false. Iran has not enriched any uranium beyond LEU 4%, as the public record clearly states; weaponized U235 (HEU) needs to go above 90% enrichment, or at least 80% for a fizzly sort of bomb. I've linked to this many times before here. For the zillionth time:

[...] Highly enriched uranium (HEU) has a greater than 20% concentration of 235U or 233U.

The fissile uranium in nuclear weapons usually contains 85% or more of 235U known as weapon(s)-grade, though for a crude, inefficient weapon 20% is sufficient (called weapon(s)-usable); some argue that even less is sufficient, but then the critical mass required rapidly increases.

Claims that Iran has enriched uranium to the point of making a single bomb, let alone many, is wildly false.
[...] Low-enriched uranium' (LEU) has a lower than 20% concentration of 235U. For use in commercial light water reactors (LWR), the most prevalent power reactors in the world, uranium is enriched to 3 to 5% 235U. Fresh LEU used in research reactors is usually enriched 12% to 19.75% U-235, the latter concentration being used to replace HEU fuels when converting to LEU.
Iran has, according to all public information, only engaged in LEU, around 3-4%. If you have differing information, please support it with a link to evidence. Thanks.

Iranian nuclear enrichment:

[...] In March 2009, the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples testified before the United States Congress that Iran lacks weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and has not yet made a decision on whether to produce any. They also testified that Iranian missile tests were not directly related to its nuclear activities, and that the two programs were believed to be on separate development tracks
I've followed this thread of news, and there have been no reports anywhere of Iran engaging in HEU programs, other than claims that there might be Secret Programs. Which might always be the case about anything anywhere within a country's capabilities. Meanwhile, your claims about Iran currently having HEU "enough to build multiple warheads" can't be supported. (You didn't specify HEU, you wrote " Unlike the case of Iraqi WMDs, Iran admits to enriching uranium in substantial quantities -- enough to build multiple warheads"; this misstates the crucial facts, as it claims that Iran, right now, can build nuclear warheads, when in fact it is physically incapable -- absent Sekrit Programs there's no evidence of -- of building a single nuclear warhead any time in the very near future. (Some years from now, of course, they could, if they chose; but now now.)

I grant you that there have been propaganda-type headlines in various news sources that mispresent the facts, and don't explain, at least within the headline, the difference between nuclear fuel level LEU, and weapons-grade HEU, but you shouldn't be confused about the difference, or mis-state the implications, I think we can agree, right?

Iranian nuclear enrichment:

[...] In March 2009, the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples testified before the United States Congress that Iran lacks weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and has not yet made a decision on whether to produce any. They also testified that Iranian missile tests were not directly related to its nuclear activities, and that the two programs were believed to be on separate development tracks
I've followed this thread of news, and there have been no reports anywhere of Iran engaging in HEU programs, other than claims that there might be Secret Programs. Which might always be the case about anything anywhere within a country's capabilities. Meanwhile, your claims about Iran currently having HEU "enough to build multiple warheads" can't be supported. (You didn't specify HEU, you wrote " Unlike the case of Iraqi WMDs, Iran admits to enriching uranium in substantial quantities -- enough to build multiple warheads"; this misstates the crucial facts, as it claims that Iran, right now, can build nuclear warheads, when in fact it is physically incapable -- absent Sekrit Programs there's no evidence of -- of building a single nuclear warhead any time in the very near future. (Some years from now, of course, they could, if they chose; but now now.)

I grant you that there have been propaganda-type headlines in various news sources that mispresent the facts, and don't explain, at least within the headline, the difference between nuclear fuel level LEU, and weapons-grade HEU, but you shouldn't be confused about the difference, or mis-state the implications, I think we can agree, right?

"Eric, that's why Iran is a year away from a nuclear weapon as opposed to 6 months: Iran has sufficient quantities of enriched uranium such that it only requires six months to create sufficient HEU for one or more nuclear bombs."

That's a combination of a hypothetical, and an estimate.

" For example, the regime may want to be in a position in which it can pursue a nuclear weapon on multiple fronts in order to avoid the risks of an Israeli military strike on a single (or a relative few) locations."

Or maybe, as I've written here many times, it simply wants to be in a position where it could assemble a nuclear weapon on short notice, as a deterrent, and doesn't currently intend to go any further, per Khamenei's fatwa that creation of or storage of, nuclear weapons is forbidden by Islamic law. Which would give them the same capability Japan has.

Which is something to consider, but not at all the same as a claim we know they intend to create a nuclear weapon, let alone a claim they are currently capable of it.

Moreover, creation of a bomb small enough to fit on an ICBM they don't currently have, is yet another question. Currently they have MCBMs, and we have no knowledge that they have a nuclear bomb design small enough to fit on even such a missile.

None of which puts them in violation of any treaty.

"Part of my point here is that is really bizarre that the paper of record can write a whole article about the need to impose (yet another) sanctions regime against our enemy of the week without even explaining why such sanctions are needed."

That's not what the article says. If you can quote any sentences that declare there is a a current "need to impose," please quote the sentences.

"I'm not bobbyp, but I don't think people mention Cuba to claim that sanctions are never useful."

I think it's great that you can speak for all people everywhere who have ever mentioned Cuba and sanctions.

"I have difficulty understanding the rational basis for many of the current sanctions against Iran, but perhaps you can explain: what is the specific non-regime change goal of the sanctions currently in place against Iran?"

You need me to quote the relevant lines from the Maloney testimony? I thought I already did that; maybe our comments passed during writing, as, for instance, some of mine hadn't caught up to what von subsequently wrote.

Mind, I'm not arguing with your opinion; you have a right to your opinion, and I have no interest in arguing with your opinion. But the goal is what Maloney stated:

[...] What incentives might possibly persuade a leadership that distrusts its own population to make meaningful concessions to its historical adversary? How can the international community structure an agreement so that the commitments of a regime that would invalidate its own institutions are in fact credible and durable? Finally, what mechanisms can be put in place to hedge against shifts in the Iranian power structure, an outcome that seems almost inevitable given the current volatility of the situation?

[...]

Perhaps the critical factor in the success of the 1981 conclusion to hostage negotiations was the Iraqi invasion and Iran’s desperate need for economic and diplomatic options to sustain the defense of the country. In a similar respect, any U.S. effort to negotiate with Tehran would benefit from the identification of incentives and counterincentives that can similarly focus the minds of leaders and expedite the path for negotiators.

In this respect, there is a direct and mutually reinforcing relationship between the act of engagement and the identification of potential sanctions to be applied by the international community if Iran chooses to persist with noncooperation. The threat of sanctions may be the only effective means of persuading Iran’s increasingly hard-line leadership that their interests lie in restraining their nuclear ambitions and cooperating with their old adversary in Washington.

In addition, the offer and the act of dialogue with Tehran represent the most important factors for creating a framework for long-term economic pressure if negotiations fail. The historical experience of prior U.S. administrations makes clear that international willingness to apply rigorous sanctions is inherently limited. The critical actors – Russia and China, as well as the Gulf states – have generally proven averse to steps that would severely constrain their economic interests and/or strategic relationships with Tehran. The minimum price for achieving their support for and participation in significantly intensified economic pressure will entail a serious American endeavor at direct diplomacy with the Islamic Republic.


Recognizing the currently hostile context for diplomacy, we should be coordinating our next steps as closely as possible with those states that can still bring greater political and economic pressure to bear on Tehran. In particular, we need to step up our dialogue with Beijing, whose interests with respect to Iran diverge substantially from those of the Russians and whose investments in Iran reflect a long-run effort to secure prospective opportunities rather than a short-term calculus of maximizing profit.

Still, we should be careful to presume too much with respect to the efficacy of sanctions. The conventional wisdom in Washington appears to be shifting toward the need to identify “crippling” sanctions that can force Tehran to capitulate on enrichment. Unfortunately, this policy pronouncement overlooks the reality that Iran’s multifaceted economy and, in particular, its petroleum exports offer a significant degree of insulation from sanctions. History has demonstrated that there simply are no silver bullets with respect to Iran.

Etc., as regards pros and cons.

You're right Gary, that was awkwardly phrased. I should have written: it is really bizarre that the paper of record includes an article describing the plans to impose (yet another) sanctions regime against our enemy of the week without even explaining why such sanctions are needed.

I think it's great that you can speak for all people everywhere who have ever mentioned Cuba and sanctions.

I'm sorry but this strikes me as rather petty and mean spirited. Did you intend it that way?

Do you really believe, after exchanging comments with me online for years now, that I believe I can speak for all such people? Do you honestly believe that?

I'll note that you haven't addressed my point in that comment at all: that the US government's handling of Cuba sanctions should give us pause as to whether it can ethically or effectively impose new sanctions against Iran.


You need me to quote the relevant lines from the Maloney testimony? I thought I already did that; maybe our comments passed during writing, as, for instance, some of mine hadn't caught up to what von subsequently wrote.

You need not speculate as to whether you've already written something or whether comments have passed; instead, you can simply search the comments page or compare comment timestamps.

I don't see how the testimony you cited here is relevant to my question. Maloney is talking about future sanctions being considered; I'm talking about current sanctions already in place. I still don't know what Iran must do to ensure that the US lifts the current sanctions besides regime change. That's why I asked this question, which, despite quoting, you neglected to answer: what is the specific non-regime change goal of the sanctions currently in place against Iran?

Mind, I'm not arguing with your opinion; you have a right to your opinion, and I have no interest in arguing with your opinion. But the goal is what Maloney stated:

I wasn't expressing my opinion. I was expressing a fact: I do not understand the rational basis, nor do I understand what non-regime-change behavior would cause the US to drop the current sanctions. I am authoritative regarding my own mind I think, so statements about what I do not understand should not be regarded as opinions. While you are free to argue that I do in fact understand despite my claims to the contrary, that would be rather bizarre I think. Hence my confusion at this entire comment you wrote.

"I'm not bobbyp...", but you did a fine damn job nonetheless, and I thank you, Mr. ..bulence.

The subtle distinctions alluded to by Gary (and I thank you, too, for your reply) are distinctions without a difference. They obfuscate my point...the very foundation of our lunatic foreign policy, and the widespread smug assumption of American exceptionalism.

I have no truck with those who get their panties in a knot about Iran, yet willfully and explicitly ignore flagrant violation of other U.N. resolutions, or turn a blind eye to nations that have acquired nuclear capability outside the international framework just because they are on "our side".

Lest you get the wrong impression Gary, your comment here have been very good.

Again, that's not what's under proposal; if Russia and China don't sign on, we can't impose remotely useful gasoline sanctions, so unilateral sanctions by the U.S., which doesn't sell gasoline to Iran in the first place, aren't at question.

Sure, but we are leading the charge, rather than agreeing to some other nation's instigation. If other countries do join us, it will still be our lead.

I think it is a mistake: we should join a consensus it one grows, but not be the cheerleader making it happen. I think this falls under SEP: Somebody Else's Problem.

"I'm sorry but this strikes me as rather petty and mean spirited. Did you intend it that way?"

No. I intended it to point out that your comment that ""I'm not bobbyp, but I don't think people mention Cuba to claim that sanctions are never useful" seemed to clearly be a universal claim about all such comments made by all people. I'm sure this was, of course, nothing more than a bit of less careful writing than you intended, and I didn't mean to imply anything worse. I am, myself, guilty of all sorts of hasty and sloppy and careless writing here, and constantly reread a comment and realize how I could have phrased it better.

I apologize that I tend to have a very low threshold for what other people consider offensive sarcasm. I can see how you'd see my comment as falling into that category. My only explanation is that I was raised in a very sarcastic family, and I still, despite efforts, tend to not notice when I'm doing that, or at least don't realize frequently enough that it's at an offensive level until too late. That's no excuse, and I should do better. (Sometimes, too be sure, I'm also far crankier, for various reasons, than a comment warrants, but that's not all that much the case at the moment, other than my general lack of satisfaction in life, and my current frustration with my wireless connection to the house router coming and going every few minutes.

Apologies, again.

"I'll note that you haven't addressed my point in that comment at all: that the US government's handling of Cuba sanctions should give us pause as to whether it can ethically or effectively impose new sanctions against Iran."

That's mostly because I don't have much of an opinion about that just now. And the fact that it's merely being considered as an option, rather than something to definitely try to go ahead with, as well as the fact that it's dependent on not just Iran's responses in general on nuclear negotiations, but to the cooperation of China and Russia, so the question becomes even more hypothetical and less urgent, makes my feeling of the need for developing a strong opinion just now non-urgent.

As a set of general principles related to the topic, I think you make some valid points worth considering, but I'm not completely convinced of the general case you seem to be making that the U.S. should never under any circumstance suggest any economic sanctions against anyone. If you're not making such a general case, than I simply reserve any comment on this specific issue as regards Iran for some time in the future as it becomes less hypothetical, and I develop more of an opinion.

I try not to form an opinion, as a general rule, if I don't have to, and another general rule of mine is that I try to avoid stating an opinion on anything remotely controversial or serious, if I can't back it up fairly strongly with what I consider to be reasonably solid facts and good arguments.

In other words, I try to, more or less, mostly, not opine about stuff unless I'm fairly sure of my position. This means I don't opine on lots of things said, here, and in most other places.

It also is a large part of why so many of my comments, by proportion, are confined to points of fact, or questions of clarification, or of ancillary points to the main point someone is arguing. It's not a general attempt to be obnoxious, honest.

"You need not speculate as to whether you've already written something or whether comments have passed; instead, you can simply search the comments page or compare comment timestamps."

No, I'm afraid that doesn't work comprehensively, because it doesn't allow for the time it takes for either the other person, or myself, to write a given comment, after reading even the latest comment they've read.

What I should, however, arguably do is wait until I've read an entire thread before commenting on an early comment. In this case it would have spared me making some essentially redundant, if more elaborate, comments to von. My only excuse is impatience, and also that I already tend to write overly long comments, so if I'm late catching up to a thread -- and I was away from ObWi since very late last night until very late this afternoon -- and I try to summarize all my even relevant and non-overtaken responses, it can make for truly unwieldly overly long comments. Still, it's a poor practice of mine, and I should work on greater patience before I hit "post."

Being sure what other people have or haven't read, of course, is something I can't do.

"I wasn't expressing my opinion. I was expressing a fact: I do not understand the rational basis, nor do I understand what non-regime-change behavior would cause the US to drop the current sanctions."

Well, yes, it's a fact about your opinion and your understanding, and that's not the sort of thing I'm apt to offer an opinion about unless I think you're clearly wrong about a fact, rather than an "understanding."

I will say this about this: "...nor do I understand what non-regime-change behavior would cause the US to drop the current sanctions."

I don't pretend to be privy to whatever is discussed at the National Security Council, State Department, or White House, at any level. But I do have the understanding, based solely on news reports, articles in journals, and other public information, that the Obama administration intends a wide-ranging set of negotiations with Iran, with more or less a full range of issues on both sides on the table. I approve of that approach.

I thought it was clear that as part of such an approach, which would include our official recognition of the government of Iran, their formal recognition of ours, the mutual exchange of ambassadors, the opening of trade negotiations, if not outright agreements, and probably security guarantees on our part to not seek regime change in Iran, that part of our side would be dropping of all sanctions. This is what has been consistently alluded to in the press and advocated by folks hired by the Obama administration -- though not advocated by all now-members of the diplomatic/security team, to be sure -- since during the campaign, and repeated many times in such public news articles and advocacy articles and journal reports and the like, since Obama was elected.

It's also my understanding that Iran seeks official apologies from the U.S. government, for past events, and I'd certainly agree that some are deserved, although a case can also be made quite fairly, I think, for a return apology for that whole "hostage" unpleasantness, as well. But the U.S.-Iranian relationship has a long among of unfortunate history, as I'm sure you'll agree, with neither side holding an impeccable record.

Thanks for apologizing Gary; twas mighty big of you.

In this case it would have spared me making some essentially redundant, if more elaborate, comments to von.

I think your comments about highly enriched uranium more than make up for any redundancy. I'll try to bookmark this post for future reference; I'm sure that in a few weeks, von will write another post about how Iran has stockpiled enough Uranium for 4,124,898 warheads.

the Obama administration intends a wide-ranging set of negotiations with Iran, with more or less a full range of issues on both sides on the table. I approve of that approach.

I think the administration has certainly indicated that their amenable to such negotiation, but at the same time, they don't seem to have done much. Moreover, political constraints for any administration make normalizing relations with Iran...challenging, and I get the feeling that Obama wants to blow his political capital on other things (healthcare, Israel/Palestine, energy, etc). But time will tell.

But the U.S.-Iranian relationship has a long among of unfortunate history, as I'm sure you'll agree, with neither side holding an impeccable record.

That would be an understatement.

"I'll try to bookmark this post for future reference"

I actually wrote up a much more comprehensive comment about the subject on ObWi a few months ago, but I'm likely too lazy to find it again. If it were easier to use Google when you've addressed a subject multiple times, but can't remember a phrase that would be specific to a single comment, I'd do it more often, once the thread has gotten more than a week old; otherwise it's actually easier, annoying as it is, to just write the same points again.

"I think the administration has certainly indicated that their amenable to such negotiation, but at the same time, they don't seem to have done much."

I'm not clear how either of us is in a position to well judge, given that diplomacy is, generally, by nature, beyond a very limited point, not public. Public negotiation is, with certain exceptions, more frequently than not, counter-productive, I suggest history of diplomacy makes clear.

Countries have trouble backing down from public declarations, and can do so far more easily in private. Also, horse-trading is often ugly to watch, and can -- are apt to -- embarrass both sides. Also, serious diplomacy focuses on excruciating amounts of detail, and serious accounts on serious issues tend to take book length, if they're even possible.

I think the Obama administration has made a number of clear statements on their intentions in public, however, and that that's about as much as we can reasonably expected to know for now.

"...and I get the feeling that Obama wants to blow his political capital on other things (healthcare, Israel/Palestine, energy, etc)...."

I think obviously Obama wants to accomplish a large number of things, but it's clear to me that relations with Iran, and certain goals with Iran, including preventing an Israeli attack, and also preventing any possible danger -- regardless of how this should or should not be prioritized -- of Iran constructing nuclear weapons in the future (and I agree that there are many valid questions to be asked as to how this issue should be prioritized; I've many times here on ObWi observed that I think there's little likely danger that, even if Iran should go down that path, that there's little credible evidence they'd be less deterrable from using nuclear weapons than the Soviet Union, or Mao's China, or, indeed, North Korea, have been) -- is among them. I think Obama has also made clear that normalization of relations is a good idea he wishes to work towards for a variety of reasons that really should be obvious. I mean, he's said this, and I don't think he's lying.

Where exactly it lies on the list of priorities, I couldn't possibly say.

"That would be an understatement."

Indeed. I have a leaning towards them in general. I'm probably affected by having read so many British writers, among other influences. I just find understatement attractive and amusing much of the time, although I certainly don't claim that too often I'll get carried away, and on occasion over-state, either.

Some other of those past comments on Iran's nuclear program I've made here, though, include this, and then do a "find" on my name down the rest of that thread for a bunch more.

That is, the "You Can Have Whatever You Like" post by Eric Martin on April 09, 2009, which is here. I went into a whole lot of more detail, with lots of links, and mildly technical detail.

Turns out it wasn't hard to find after all. :-)

von is being misleading. Iran is already under sanctions as a result of its non-compliance with UNSCR 1737. They are highly targeted sanctions with two aims:
1) prevent importation of risky technology
2) financially punish organisations involved in the nuclear program.
They are also UN-approved.

The proposed sanctions are not targeted - sanctions on petrol imports would hurt everyone - and they would be a US initiative, not a UN initiative.
Both of these features make them a bad idea, likely to strengthen the regime without necessarily dissuading it from proliferation.

UNSC Res 1737 and other such resolutions that deprive Iran of her sovereign rights are ultra vires and illegal and therefore non-binding. THe UNSC is not free to violate the principle of jus cogens, and so Iran can legitimately ignore those provisions. Read up on it at IranAffairs.com

According to an IAEA official:

"Some people do not want to see the Iran issue resolved because that would contradict their hidden agendas, he said, adding that "people should have learned from their mistakes in the past, when all the hype over alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq turned out to be just that -- hype...

"If the facts are at odds with the policy objectives of some people who are keen to impose further sanctions on Iran, that's too bad," the official added..."

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL1283850220080212

Publius argues that the Iranian public perception of ongoing diplomatic discussions with the US will alter Iranian domestic arrangements. More than the public perception of diplomacy with the Europeans did.

And that this domestic change is enough to stave off nuclear weapons development and nuclear war.

It's a thin reed.

Granted, though, sanctions are also a gamble.

They're both nuclear gambles. And there's no question of whether nuclear weapons are the issue.

"And there's no question of whether nuclear weapons are the issue."

In what sense?

"I'm not clear how either of us is in a position to well judge, given that diplomacy is, generally, by nature, beyond a very limited point, not public. Public negotiation is, with certain exceptions, more frequently than not, counter-productive, I suggest history of diplomacy makes clear."

Funny, I agree with this completely.

I am also looking for the comment you made arguing that if I couldn't prove the administration was talking to the Iranians than it couldn't have happened. But that was a different administration.

"But that was a different administration."

And not what I said.

I have an idea, though. Let's bomb Burma!

We could even invade, given what an evil government we can all agree they have.

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