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U.S.-Iran Sanctions

On December 7th, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extended exemptions from

-15983302″>sanctions on Iranian oil for India and eight other countries. The US extended these exemptions because these nine countries have taken concrete steps to reduce how much Iranian oil they import. Limiting Iran’s oil market is key to applying broad pressure on Iran to scale back its nuclear energy ambitions and return to the negotiating table. The EU has imposed similar sanctions.

Recent accounts suggests these sanctions have been effective. Only months ago many reports were more doubtful and some still are. This change means time is ripe to show the world what these sanctions are building towards: a deal.

Any potential benefits of sanctions in terms of negotiating a peaceful Iranian nuclear program, reducing human rights abuses, or ending funding to terrorist groups must be measured against the costs, such as complicating our relations with our allies and contributing to the volatility or oil prices across the world.

Weathering a storm like Sandy has been a sobering and humbling experience for

Americans living on the east coast. The long lines for tightly rationed gasoline had not been seen in New York since the 1970’s. The street protests against a power company, like the Long Island Power Authority, may well have been an altogether new experience. But for a lot of countries it does not take a gale force winds and floods to bring a struggling economy to its knees.

In landlocked Nepal, long lines and street protests are a daily occurrence, and they happen often because of events far away and due to conflicts that they have little control over. When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Nepal imports one hundred percent of its gasoline, diesel, and kerosene from India. India imports more than seventeen and a half million metric tons of oil every year from Iran.

When India’s oil imports go down, its oil prices goes up. These costs are passed on to countries like Nepal. Products made from oil includes not only gasoline used for personal travel, but also diesel that powers trucks that move goods and generators that keep the lights on in businesses, and liquid petroleum gas that power the people’s kitchens and cook the food that everyone must eat.

The delicate love-hate triangle between the US, Iran, and India over nuclear energy is not new. As far back as 1957, the US helped start Iran’s nuclear energy power capabilities and Iran signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968. India has never signed the treaty. It was not until India tested their first nuclear weapon in 1974 that the US began to have second thoughts about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Of course, all normal relations with Iran ended with the Islamic Revolution in 1979. This history has shaped the ambiguity of whether Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

It will be easy for Obama and his new-look national security team to punt the ball with more sanctions. The president may find it challenging to offer much to Iran in bringing them to the negotiating table. These sanctions are not an end in themselves, but means for an end. The goal of these sanctions has to be to return Iran to participation in effective monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA and the NPT are the existing framework that exist for nonproliferation and can only be strengthened through broader participation and the creation of consistent standards of measuring proliferation risks.

While we may not be able to convince India or Israel to sign the NPT, we can strengthen the existing legal framework by developing consistent standards of what constitutes proliferation and applying it evenly across the board. Iran is a NPT signatory country, but unarmed as we are with a concrete definition of proliferation and the ability to this standard evenhandedly, our demands that Iran abandon their nuclear ambitions ring hollow with two thirds (120) of the world’s countries who feel that Iran is entitled to peaceful nuclear energy. Otherwise, their support comes only reluctantly and must be coaxed.


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