It turns out that the hasty jubilance of Tehran following the release of the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate was just wishful thinking.
Last week, in what the ayatollahs' foreign minister called a “surprise” move, the United States and five other world powers dealing with Iran's nuclear issue agreed on a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution. The new resolution, if adopted, will severely tighten the existing UN sanctions and add new punitive measures targeting Tehran's financial and military institutions.
The swift move by the ambassadors of Germany and the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and France — in New York to fine tune the draft resolution and its subsequent distribution to the rest of the Council members make the passage of the resolution very likely.
Much has been said about the compromises made and the purported weakened language of the draft resolution since the Berlin meeting. The fact remains, however, that in light of an eight-month deadlock and predictions about the impossibility of accord among the six powers in the aftermath of the NIE; arriving at such a resolution was a huge achievement.
The political tremors of this “surprise” development were fully felt at the heart of the clerical regime in Tehran. Factional infighting, now in full swing before the upcoming parliamentary elections farce, took a new turn following the Berlin agreement. While these squabbles will not engender the emergence of a genuine “moderate” faction, given the intrinsic imperviousness of this regime to real reform, they will undoubtedly weaken the entirety of the ayatollahs' rule.
The regime's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, whose role in setting Tehran's foreign policy has been reduced to damage control, dedicated his remarks at the Davos Economic Summit to this topic. Meanwhile, Hashemi Samareh, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief adviser, rushed to the summit to deliver the regime's official nuclear policy, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, destroyed “a remaining glimmer of hope for compromise.”
The new draft resolution would have a huge psychological impact on Tehran's financial transactions and institutions, already restricted as a result of the UNSC's two previous sanctions, which were both vigorously augmented by the punitive sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury. Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, two of Iran's biggest banks, are reportedly the targets of the UNSC's third resolution. Bank Sepah was already sanctioned by the UNSC.
Earlier this month, industry sources told Reuters that Indian refiner Reliance stopped selling fuel to Iran last year after French banks BNP Paribas and Calyon ceased offering credit on the deals. "None of the banks which have something to do with the United States were willing to open … because of U.S. pressure," a senior Reliance Industries Ltd source told the news agency.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Bank Saderat's managing director admitted that as a result of unilateral sanctions by Washington, 200 foreign banks have halted their transactions with Bank Saderat. Recent figures from Bankers' Almanac reveal that the number of Saderat's correspondent banks has declined from 29 in August 2006 to eight, two of which are Saderat subsidiaries, according to the Times.
Banking sources in the Persian Gulf have confirmed that banks in the United Arab Emirates, a major strategic hub for Tehran's financial lifeline, have also stopped issuing letters of credit to Iranian companies. Moreover, Bahrain's biggest lender, Ahli United Bank, has reportedly suspended business with Iran. Meanwhile, France's Total announced last week that it was dealing with "huge cost issues" on the Pars liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Iran. The UN sanctions do not target Iran's energy sector directly, but they create a ripple effect that indirectly hinders those foreign companies working in that sector. The Pars LNG terminal was scheduled to begin operations next year, but this has already been postponed to at least 2011.
More than 18 months after the first binding UN sanctions resolution dealing with Tehran's defiant continuance of uranium enrichment was adopted, the ayatollahs' regime stands in clear violation of UNSC resolutions 1737 and 1747. The enrichment aspect of Tehran's nuclear program has always been at the heart of the international concerted effort to remove the possibility of Tehran possessing a nuclear weapon.
Tehran's secret nuclear program was dealt a severe blow when it was fully exposed by the major opposition coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, in August 2002. Those and subsequent revelations set in motion an international campaign to pressure Iran to come clean. This forced Tehran to halt its exposed and soon-to-be inspected Lavizan-Shian facility in mid-2003 and disperse the nuclear weaponization program to several other secret sites the following year. As a result of the NCRIs' continued revelations and subsequent spotlight on Tehran's nuclear program, the world had a great opportunity to rigorously nip the program in the bud. It chose instead to engage Tehran in endless and ineffectual negotiations before the Security Council finally took charge of the issue.
Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, recently told a state-run media outlet that Tehran used the diplomatic talks to buy time and political cover to complete many of its exposed but unfinished facilities: “We accepted the temporary and voluntary enrichment so that with the temporary suspension of just one segment and mollifying the international environment we could complete the rest of our nuclear infrastructure,” he told the Aftab daily in December.
The UN sanctions and complementary U.S. sanctions have proven politically and financially effective. They need, however, to be implemented more vigorously and systematically. Sanctions must be coupled with a concerted policy of empowering the democratic opposition seeking to bring about a government free of tyranny, terror and weapons of mass destruction.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.