Araqchi’s comments do not coincide with any notable progress in those talks, and indeed negotiations have not yet resumed following the seven month extension of the previous November 24 deadline. These sorts to statements from the Iranian side can be read as attempts to exert public pressure on the US and its partners to make a deal even though Iranian demands regarding enrichment capacity and restraint on inspections have not moderated in any meaningful way since the inking of an interim agreement in November of last year.
Araqchi’s statements can also be regarded as a response to the changing conditions of those negotiations, which face considerably more skepticism from outside observers in the face of the imminent takeover of the US Congress by the Republican Party, which has long decried the Obama administration’s soft approach to negotiating with Iran.
Because of that change and also because of the now year-long duration of the negotiating process, there is much talk of a change of strategy, including the institution of new international sanction on the Iranian economy. Some of this commentary focuses on evidence that the sanctions relief that has been offered under the interim deal has not been having the intended effect.
The most obvious evidence of this is the simple fact that Iran has not moderated its position in response to that relief. Al Arabiya adds that it is that anti-reformist Iranian system, and not Iranian citizens, that benefits significantly from sanctions relief. The Iranian political elite, including the paramilitary Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, owns a tremendous share of Iranian industries and is able to defray toward its own interests the money that is being received as a result of relief to those industries. Thus, current strategies may actually be benefiting the Iranian power structure at the expense of a pro-Western citizenry that might seriously push for internal change.
The author of this editorial recommends targeted sanctions as an alternative, focused not on helping Iran to build its industrial and technical economy, but instead on helping it to build schools and other infrastructure that would directly benefit private citizens. Such a policy has not been publicly considered either by the Obama administration or by its chief adversaries. Meanwhile, that administration is strongly pushing back against pressure in favor of new sanctions on Iranian industries. But Congress is working to establish filibuster-proof majority support for a bill that would trigger new sanctions in the event that Iran walks away from the talks.
There are some indications that now may be a particularly effective time to institute new sanctions, or to at least present them as a viable threat. The recent drop off in oil prices puts serious pressure on the Iranian economy, and Quartz reports that the Islamic Republic is currently losing a billion dollars a month and may be poised to lose as much as 1.4 billion in the near future.
The economic crisis is serious enough that the Iranian government has to consider alternative sources of revenue. Customs Today indicates that the parliament has passed unprecedented legislation that would allow taxation of religious institutions and military-linked companies. This is a strong indicator that economic pressure negatively affects the same power structure that Al Arabiya says is affected positively by sanctions relief.
Nevertheless AFP reports that Obama administration officials including National Security Advisor Susan Rice have expressed the belief that any such introduction of new sanctions would push Iran away from the process and leave the international community with the impression that it was the United States that destroyed existing chances of a final accord. The AFP also quotes Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as saying that the Iranians share this perception, and are confident that they will escape blame for an unsatisfactory end to talks.
But many experts and foreign policy analysts believe that the added pressure of new economic sanctions offers the best, if not the only chance to obtain cooperation from the Iranians. For instance, The Tower on Friday reported upon testimony to this effect from Michael Doran, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He declared that sanctions are a necessary component of the American leverage that has been willfully decreased amidst a narrow focus Iran’s role in the conflict with the Islamic State.
Doran also warned that this narrow focus has alienated the US’s traditional allies in the Middle East. He insisted that both this trend and the trend of unconditional sanctions relief must be reversed during the seven months leading up to the new nuclear deadline. Doran specifically recommends that the president accept a new sanctions bill and that he reassure American allies through such actions as exerting enhanced pressure on Iran’s ally, the Assad regime in Syria.
But not only are these initiatives not currently on President Obama’s agenda, there is some worry that his alienation of American allies is only poised to go further. NewsMax reported on Friday that the Obama administration appeared to be considering the possibility of enacting sanction against Israel in response to the building of settlements, at the same time that Obama resists new sanctions for Iran while the Islamic Republic expands its influence throughout the Middle East.