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"I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them."

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
New UN Sanctions on Iran Proposed

Peter Crail

France and the United Kingdom Feb. 21 formally introduced a new draft sanctions resolution on Iran’s nuclear program to the UN Security Council. The draft lays the basis for a third UN sanctions measure against Iran. Tehran has refused to comply with Security Council demands to suspend its enrichment-related work and the construction of its heavy water reactor.

The draft resolution is based largely on a set of sanctions that Germany and the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed to on Jan. 22. In February, the six countries shared a draft sanctions package with the nonpermanent members of the Security Council for commentary.

John Sawers, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told reporters Feb. 21, “The text that we’ve circulated today reflects some of the comments we’ve had back from delegations.”

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, indicated that Moscow would be willing to back the measure. He told reporters Feb. 27, “If Iran in the next few days does not stop the enrichment activities…then yes, Russia…has taken upon itself certain commitments…to support the resolution that has been drafted in the past month.”

Several nonpermanent members of the Security Council had pushed for delaying consideration of an additional sanctions resolution until after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its February report on Iran. Ricardo Alberto Arias, Panama’s permanent representative to the UN, told reporters Feb. 14, “We have to wait for the report of the IAEA because it’s a factor to have to consider in this.” The agency issued the report Feb. 22 (see page 25).

Since the release of the IAEA report, however, Libya has indicated that it would not likely agree to the currently proposed sanctions. Giadalla Ettalhi, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told reporters Feb. 25 that “there should be some changes” in the draft resolution and that his country “cannot be supportive of further sanctions.”

Responding to questions regarding the concerns expressed by other council members about the sanctions measures, Department of State deputy spokesperson Tom Casey told reporters Feb. 26, “Nobody seems to think that we can’t address their concerns and overcome the differences.”

The sanctions included in the current draft are already weaker than what the United States originally sought. China and Russia voiced opposition to more stringent measures prior to the initial agreement on a sanctions package in January. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Feb. 13 that the sanctions are “not as strong as the United States would have liked, but they have the effect of reminding Iran that it is isolated from the international community.”

The draft resolution reinforces the current set of sanctions targeted against personnel and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and applies additional efforts aimed at curtailing Iran’s access to nuclear equipment and technology. It also expands the list of 50 individuals and entities subject to travel restrictions and assets freezes under the two previous resolutions, as well as the list of dual-use items prohibited for transfer to Iran. (See ACT, April 2007. )

One of the key additional efforts in the draft resolution is a call for states to inspect cargoes carried by the firms Iran Air Cargo and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line if there are reasonable grounds to believe that they may contain prohibited items. South Africa has reportedly expressed opposition to this provision of the draft resolution.

GAO Report Questions U.S. Sanctions Impact

As the United States and its allies continue to seek multilateral sanctions on Iran through the UN, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in January calls into the question the effectiveness of a variety of U.S. sanctions measures.

At the request of Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), the GAO examined the full range of U.S. sanctions on Iran, including the comprehensive trade and investment restrictions imposed in the 1980s, sanctions on foreign entities engaging in proliferation or terrorism-related activities with Iran, and more recent targeted financial restrictions against Iranian entities involved in proliferation or terrorism-related activities.

The report concludes that the extent of the impact of sanctions on Iran “is difficult to determine” and recommends that the National Security Council and other key agencies carry out periodic assessments of these sanctions. It notes, however, that “Iran’s global trade ties and leading role in energy production make it difficult for the United States to isolate Iran.”

The report recommends periodic assessments of U.S. sanctions. It noted that although U.S. officials have stated that U.S. sanctions have specific impacts on Iran, “agencies have not assessed the overall impact of sanctions.” Administration officials told the GAO that sanctions are just one factor influencing Iran’s behavior and it is not possible to determine the impact various sanctions have on policymaking in Tehran.

A staffer for Shays told Arms Control Today Feb. 13 that the report was requested in order to get an idea of “what was working and what was not.” In response to the report, Shays introduced legislation Jan. 18 that requires relevant U.S. agencies to carry out an annual assessment of sanctions on Iran.

The Department of the Treasury informed the GAO that it does carry out assessments of financial sanctions. In a Dec. 6, 2007, response to the draft report, Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, claimed that, as a result of eliciting the support of private financial institutions, “foreign-based branches and subsidiaries of Iran’s state-owned banks are increasingly isolated, threatening their viability.”

For the last several years, the Treasury Department has engaged in a concerted effort to convince other states and foreign financial institutions to apply financial pressure on countries such as Iran. Levey told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee in April 2006 that senior Treasury Department officials have met with their counterparts “in a number of countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East to urge them to ensure that U.S.-designated proliferators are not able to do business in their countries.”

Treasury officials admit, however, that Iran has employed ways to circumvent U.S. financial restrictions on its financial institutions. In a Feb. 8 speech, Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt stated that such circumvention has “allowed actions by Iranian banks to remain undetected as they move funds through the international financial system to pay for the regime’s illicit activities.”

Iranian officials have boasted of their own efforts to evade sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies. Tahmasb Mazaheri, governor of Iran’s central bank, told a London audience Feb. 7, “The central bank assists Iranian private and state-owned banks to do their commitments regardless of the pressure on them.”