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Let's negotiate like Russia with Iran

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Marina Voronova-Abrams, Global Green USA on October 5, 2009

There is no public proof that Iran intends to build a bomb and no good reason to impose crippling sanctions. Such sanctions will only decrease the U.S.’s influence on Iran, while they increase Russia’s.

Several U.S. media outlets and US Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) wrongly said that the September 25 public acknowledgment of Iran’s secret enrichment facility in Qum, capable of holding 3,000 centrifuges, is proof that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon.  This is additional proof that Iran broke its international obligations, but these sources do not prove that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon.  These facilities can be used to produce low enriched uranium for nuclear reactor fuel, or highly enriched uranium for the core of a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s nuclear actions and reactions, since the 1979 revolution have always been driven by its threat perception. The largest threat came from Iraq in the 1980s, and Iran knew when Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear program, bombed in 1981 by Israel.  When Iraq restarted its efforts at creating a nuclear capability, Iran reinvigorated its own nuclear program, stalled in 1979 during the Iranian revolution.  Seeing that Israel bombed Iraq’s Osiraq reactor it is not surprising that Iran, to preserve its nuclear capability, decided to build an underground facility, or two (we still do not know if there are others). 

U.S. officials said the construction of the Qum based facility began before March 2007.  Long before that there was no longer an Iraqi threat, but these was a US-Israeli one.  The Bush Administration and Israel leading up to March 2007 made clear that a bombing campaign on Iran’s Natanz facility was a concrete policy option if Iran refused to freeze all nuclear work. With U.S. troops encircling Iran, 50,000 in Afghanistan and 150,000 in Iraq, the threat from the West on Iran’s facilities is still high to Iran.

Iran does have a dual use (nuclear energy and weapon) program, and may very well be leaving its options open.  However, as several foreign officials have said, it is best to calmly judge this situation and not jump to conclusions, as we did before the Iraq War.  If Iran does have the technical option to build a bomb, how would crippling sanctions stop it from taking it? Especially if such sanctions would not cripple the Iranian power holders?

Sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas industry, as Representative Berman and most of Congress call for in The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act will not be crippling, as Secretary of State Clinton defined them, if Russia and China do not support them.  At this point, both nations have said that these sanctions are not the solution to Iran. Even French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said this week that such a measure would hit “mainly poor people” in Iran, so did not represent a viable solution.

While the United States is fooling around with an unclear policy mix of engagement and sanctions, Russia is whispering in the ear of Iran. Russia is consistently pulling Iran closer, making a profit while also keeping a very close eye on the nation’s nuclear wheelings and dealings.  This is why the director of Russia’s Federal Agency of Atomic Energy was for a long time the chief representative to the Intergovernmental Commission of Trade and Economic Cooperation with Iran. 

Russia has not supported new sanctions on Iran for over a year.  To Russia, more sanctions will increase tension in Iran’s relations with the West and increase the chance of military conflict. A military conflict with Iran will hamper Russia’s expanding trade ties with Iran and destabilize Russia’s neighbors with the influx of refugees.  In 2008 trade reached $3.7 billion between the two nations.  The most significant trade increase comes in the military and nuclear sectors.  In 2007 President Putin visited Tehran, making the first head of state visit to Iran from Russia in over sixty years and parliamentary to parliamentary exchanges are now happening monthly.  

President Obama’s once very clear policy proposal to engage Iran, as proposed during his campaign, has been watered down by his bureaucracy’s weak support for the policy and false presumptions that Iran already intends to build a bomb. Russia is influencing the nation much more now than the United States.  There is no doubt that Iran’s current regime is despicable, but we need to get back in the negotiating game before we lose all power to have a positive influence on this situation. 


Robert F. Schlicht said ..

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Ma’am, Your post does a good job at reviewing why sanctions on petroleum products will likely be ineffective. However, it does not examine one purpose of U.S. and international efforts to impose sanctions on Iran. Sanctions are a way to reestablish IAEA safeguards which reduce the possibility of nuclear weapons proliferation. Iran has not lived up to its NPT responsibilities. As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is afforded the right to peaceful nuclear technology. But the treaty also makes Iran responsible for reporting activities and maintaining transparency, particularly because it agreed to an IAEA Additional Protocol. Iran has repeatedly violated the NPT and AP, and has not reestablished the IAEA’s access to monitor and inspect Iranian facilities to evaluate compliance. While some might say that Iran has withdrawn from the AP, this is not accurate. A legal analogy to ‘withdrawing’ from the AP would be a homeowner ‘withdrawing’ from a neighborhood homeowner’s agreement signed during the house purchase. Reneging on the AP is just another way Iran is breaking the rules. While Iran is breaking the rules, the international community cannot verify what Iran is doing with the nuclear technology given under the auspices of peaceful use. The ‘dual-use’ technologies you referred to cannot be monitored if they are in undeclared facilities or are not accessible by the IAEA. We cannot confirm that Iran is attempting to make nuclear weapons, but conversely we cannot verify that they are not. Verification can only come from inspections, and the U.S. and most of Europe believe sanctions are the most effective way to force Iran to accept IAEA safeguards. Statements by Iranian President Ahmadinejad and other officials have made analysts believe that Iran will not accept the level of safeguards needed to provide the international community some confidence in Iran’s future fidelity. Sanctions on petroleum products, which Iran both imports and exports (because of the lack of investment in petroleum refining capacity,) could change their minds. While the sanctions may not impact the Iranian government, it would definitely cause unrest and possibly cause additional distaste for the current Iranian administration. Sadly, without the support of Russia and China, petroleum sanctions are nearly useless. If sanctions were supported by all of the Security Council members, what would be Iran’s reason to continue to close its facilities to the IAEA? As long as the Iranian nuclear program does not include a nuclear weapons program, Iran need not relinquish sovereignty or forfeit its nuclear program; it only needs to prove that it is living up to its responsibilities. Once it agrees to reestablishing IAEA safeguards, most international pressure against Iran will disappear. We may never know the true nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran could be solely working toward producing medical isotopes and nuclear energy to improve its economy and its citizens’ quality-of-life. But until it opens all of its facilities, clears its previous record of violating international agreements, and reestablishes nuclear safeguards, it will continue to be the target of condemnation, sanctions, and possibly military action. Major Robert F. Schlicht, student, Command and General Staff College, Fort Lee Satellite Campus, Fort Lee, Virginia.

October 28, 2009

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