Tag Archive | "Iran"

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

News Post: EU and US Impose Further Sanctions on Iran

By: Kaitlin Fox

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with nuclear scientists

The European Union (EU) and the United States took further action on Monday to curb Iran’s nuclear program.  The EU agreed to impose a phased ban on oil purchases from Iran while the United States expanded its sanctions on Iran to include the countries’ third largest bank, Bank Tajarat.  Iranian Government Officials reacted by reiterating their threat to close the Straight of Hormuz, in which twenty percent of the world’s oil passes.  It is unclear whether the EU and U.S. actions will prove effective.  Some speculate that Iran will simply turn to alternative markets while others sense that the sanctions will cause major damage to the Iranian economy.  Either way, recent events are certain to escalate tensions in the region.

The EU’s phased ban on oil purchases does not permit EU member states to enter into new contracts for Iranian oil.  However, countries that have existing contracts will have until July 1 to end those agreements.  The EU’s decision is meant to “force a shift in policy and avert the risk of military strikes against Tehran.”  The U.S.’s sanction against Bank Tejarat is poised to further restrict Iran’s access to the international financial market.  The Treasury, under the Secretary for Terrorism, David Cohen, stated that, “At a time when banks around the world are cutting off Iran and its currency is depreciating rapidly, today’s action against Bank Tejarat strikes at one of Iran’s few remaining access points to the international financial system.”   Thus far, Iran has had little regard for its international obligations, and both U.S. and EU officials hope that these moves will increase their cost of defiance.

The EU’s action represents a shift in policy, as the EU has been reluctant to impose an embargo on Iranian oil imports. The U.S. stopped importing oil from Iran years ago where as EU member states, including France, Italy, Greece and Spain, currently import approximately 600,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran..  The EU’s shift came after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was moving toward nuclear capability this fall.  The EU’s timeline to enforce its embargo coincides with the U.S. six-month timeframe, during which President Obama will need to decide whether to pursue sanctions on countries that import Iranian oil.    The effectiveness of recent action is unclear. Jamie Webster, a Middle East oil analyst at PFC Energy stated that the sanction could merely cause Iran to shift its customers and deliver more to Eastern markets.  What is clear, however, is that a drop in oil revenue would have a significant negative impact on an already weak Iranian economy.

Iran’s reaction to the EU and U.S. sanctions was defiant and almost skeptical.  Officials in Tehran insisted that the EU needed Iranian oil more than Iran needed its business.  Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi stated that, “The West’s ineffective sanctions against the Islamic state are not a threat to us. They are opportunities and have already brought lots of benefits to the country.”  The particular benefits he refers to are undefined and other officials in the region fear grave consequences of Iran’s hard-line approach.  Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britian, Prince Mohammad Bin Nawaf, expressed his concern that Iran’s threat to block the Straight of Hormuz would have grave consequences on the region and would undoubtedly escalate the entire situation to the detriment of Iranian citizens.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/24/us-iran-idUSTRE80N0YB20120124  If Iran’s attitude remains unchanged, the situation will certainly escalate as evidenced by the United States sailing an aircraft carrier through the straight, accompanied by British and French warships on Sunday.  The United States has asserted that, “it would not tolerate the closure of the world’s most important oil shipping gateway.” http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/24/us-iran-idUSTRE80N0YB20120124

Amidst this turmoil, it remains in controversy: do sanctions actually work?  Sanctions are appealing to governments like the U.S. and the EU.  In theory, sanctions force policy by blocking money from flowing in and out of a country, and thus forcing the sanctioned government to give in to political pressure.  On the surface, this seems like a much better option than forcing the issue through military action whilst risking American lives.  However, it is arguable whether sanctions do more harm to the citizens of the sanctioned country than to the governments they attempt to influence.  In this case, Iranian citizens already suffer from a weak economy and an oppressive government and it is likely that these sanctions will enhance these problems by further devaluing the currency and increasing oil prices.  The goal of these sanctions is to persuade the Iranian government to halt its nuclear program; but with the imminent risk of further stirring tension in the region and without any guarantee of success, there is the possibility that sanctions may do more harm than good.

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Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

News Post: Implications of a U.S. Drone in Iran

Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

On December 4th Iran surprised the world with claims that it had downed and captured an American surveillance drone. At first, these claims were met with skepticism, that is until Iran finally unveiled video footage of the actual drone. The video depicted the seemingly undamaged RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft. Iranian officials claimed that its forces electronically commandeered the aircraft approximately 140 miles from the Afghan border and were then able to safely land it inside Iran. Considering the little damage to the drone, BBC security correspondent saysthis is likely to be true. Iranian officials then acknowledged the wealth of technological information that could be garnered from the aircraft.

Meanwhile, the United States denied Iran’s assertions that the drone was either shot or brought down by a cyber-attack. Explanations for the occurrence claim it was more likely a technical failure that led to a crash. The drone was actually being operated by the CIA, which is said to have possession of almost a dozen such aircraft, and has been using them over the past four years to conduct surveillance deep inside Iran, most likely of nuclear weapons. The use of these drones mirrors the Obama administration’s more confrontational posture towards Iran in recent months. Obama, in 2009, famously tried to reach out to Iran to improve relations, but there is growing skepticism within the administration over the effectiveness of these diplomatic overtures and increased economic sanctions. Increased arm sales to Iran’s neighbors along with threatening statements by U.S. officials have accompanied this change in posture. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has reaffirmed that all options remain on the table, including use of the military, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. U.S. officials have noted the administration’s strategy is to ratchet up the diplomatic pressure while increasing covert operations with Iran with the hopes of coercing Iran to abandon its nuclear activities.

The U.S. also fears a dangerous setback to its advanced stealth technology programs. Iran could “reverse-engineer the chemical composition of the drone’s radar-deflecting paint” and the highly advanced optics technology. Additionally, Iran could sell the technology to Russia and China, something that U.S. officials dread. Iran has come to view this as a volatile propaganda tool as well, as the drone was presented in front of two banners: one proclaiming “The U.S. cannot do a damn thing” and the other depicting the American flag with skulls instead of stars.  Iran has also called on the UN to denounce the “provocative and covert operations” of the U.S. and calling it “tantamount to an act of hostility.” Iran also summoned the Swiss ambassador to protest the “invasion” of Iranian airspace.  Iran and the U.S. have severed diplomatic ties; thus, Switzerland’s embassy represents American interests in Iran.

The implications for international law are expansive. The U.S. is and has been using stealth aircraft within the sovereign territory of Iran to collect intelligence, and it is also threatening that further military options are possible due to Iran’s continued refusal to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Iran has already denounced the act as “tantamount to an act of hostility” using language that seems to imply that the U.S. is already using or almost using illegal use of force. The question remains, however, whether the U.S.’ actions are justified in light of Iran’s own disregard for international law based on its refusal to abandon its nuclear program and oppressive treatment of its citizens.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

If Iran is Nuclear, What Could (and Should) We Do?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The International Atomic Energy Agency plans to release an updated report on Iran, in which the Agency is expected to announce its belief that Iran has now mastered the critical steps that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon.  The report allegedly also says there is no evidence that Iran has decided to build nuclear weapons, and Iran has always maintained that it only maintains a peaceful nuclear energy program.  The United States is not alone, however, in asking why Iran would acquire the materials and technology necessary to build nuclear weapons if it did not intend to do so.

The prospect of a nuclear Iran is often viewed as a destabilizing factor in an already unstable region.  Israel and Iran have a history of negative interactions regarding this issue, including Israel’s 1981 use of bombers to destroy an Iranian nuclear reactor before it could come online.  Other Arab states have supported efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the Washington Post even describes the opposition to an Iranian nuclear program as a rare source of common ground between Israelis and Arabs.

If Iran has nuclear capabilities and those capabilities are generally regarded as dangerous, the inevitable question becomes what, if anything, we should do about it.  The international community has imposed UN-backed sanctions since 2006, and the United States has imposed its own unilateral sanctions on Iran for nearly three decades.  China and Russia have resisted a fourth round of international sanctions on Iran, and though Russia’s position may be softening, China remains opposed to the idea, largely because it views further sanctions as wasted effort.

The seeming failure of the sanctions regime has led some to suggest that only the threat of force will lead to any real change.  Considering the other instability in the region, however, one has to wonder whether threats of further military campaigns would escalate an already tense situation.  The United States has been pursuing a dual-track approach that includes a combination of sanctions and incentives.

The BBC suggests that more diplomacy is the route to take, though that may just be because there is little support for military intervention in this political climate.  Meanwhile, a recent New Yorker article recommends containment through a combination of political, diplomatic, and military actions.  One could expect such containment to include tougher economic sanctions, military posturing (particularly from Israel), and diplomatic pressure.

In light of the limited success any of these policies is likely to have, are any of these actions worth the risk?  In the wake of the Arab Spring, is there a point at which a nuclear Iran, already feeling surrounded by military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, will decide it has nothing else to lose?

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Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

News Post: Looking into the Alleged Iranian Plot

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

The United States claims to have uncovered a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.  The U.S. filed a criminal complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar alleging that Mr. Arbabsiar solicited a Drug Enforcement Agency informant, thought to be a Mexican drug cartel member, to bomb a D.C. restaurant while the ambassador was present.  The complaint further alleges that Mr. Arbabsiar, a U.S. naturalized citizen, conspired with a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to pay the hit men from the Mexican drug cartel $100,000 as a down payment, followed by $1.5 million more if the attack was successful. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced Monday, October 17th,  that Iran would be willing to consider the evidence alleging Iranian involvement in the plot.  The announced willingness of Iran to consider the issue contrasts the response by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Khamenei called the allegations “meaningless and absurd” and contends that the allegations are part of scheme by the United States to isolate Iran.

Khamenei is not the only critic of the allegations alleging Iranian involvement.  Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and author, told CNN that the plot “just does not fit the Quds Force’s [modus operandi].”  If Iran was targeting Saudi Arabia, there are a lot of other places to have carried out an attack, not on U.S. soil.  An attack of a Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil would clearly be construed as an attack on the United States and contrary to “Iran’s interest in any legitimate way.”

The allegations are supported by four pieces of evidence: taped conversations between the informant and Mr. Arbabsair, taped conversations between Mr. Ababsair and his alleged co-conspirator in the Quds Froces, details about the $100,000 down payment transfer, and a confession by Mr. Arbabsair made after his arrest on September 29thCritics remain skeptical as to the motivation behind Mr. Ababsair’s confession and the strength of the connection between Mr. Ababsair and the Quds Forces.  The original complaint against Mr. Arbabsair, which remains sealed, might explain part of the motivation behind Mr. Arbabsair’s confession.

As of now, Mr. Ababsair is in U.S. custody, while his co-conspirator is at-large and believed to be in Iran.  The U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, announced Monday, October 17th, that the issue has been referred to the U.N. Security Council.  President Obama has promised to push for the “toughest possible sanctions” against Iran.

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Sources: The Independent, Iran Human Rights, The Guardian

News Post: Iran Executes Three Men for Convictions of Sodomy

Sources: The Independent, Iran Human Rights, The Guardian

Sources: The Independent, Iran Human Rights, The Guardian

Executing prisoners is not unusual in Iran. In this year alone, over 180 people have been put to death under the nation’s strict interpretation of Sharia law. Last week, however, Iranian officials executed three individuals for the crime of sodomy at the Karoun prison in the city of Ahvaz. These deaths were unusual because Iran officials typically charge men who have engaged in consensual sex with a partner of the same sex with crimes such as sexual assault or rape, rather than sodomy. Prosecutors use these charges in order to avoid international criticism and make the execution more acceptable. In 2005, Iran was strongly criticized for the public hanging of two teenagers, who were charged with sexually assaulting a thirteen year-old boy. Human rights groups argued that the teens had not assaulted the boy, but instead were being executed solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

In this case, the three convicts were sentenced to death by hanging under articles 108 and 110 of Iran’s Islamic penal code for “lavat,” or sodomy. Article 108 defines sodomy as “sexual intercourse between men.” Article 110 states, “Punishment for sodomy is killing; the Sharia judge decides on how to carry out the killing.” A spokesman for the organization Iran Human Rights stated that these executions “might be among the rare cases were the Iranian authorities admit to having executed men convicted of homosexual acts.” The three other men who were executed with them had been convicted of trafficking heroin, rape and robbery.

Mohammed Mostafaei, an Iranian lawyer who has represented Iranian citizens accused of homosexuality, explained that there is often no proof to support these claims by prosecutors. When representing one client accused of homosexuality, Mostafaei said that the proof presented was “judge’s knowledge,” which is a “legal loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where there is no conclusive evidence.” Thankfully, his client, who is not gay, received a reprieve after his case received international attention. Mostafaei believes many citizens who are executed for alleged homosexuality may in fact be innocent.

Executing citizens solely because of their sexual orientation raises significant international human rights issues. Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which declares that a death sentence “may be imposed only for the most serious crimes” under Article 6. This conflict between Sharia law and international laws regarding discrimination will only lead to more tension if Iran continues to persecute its citizens based on sexual preferences.

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