The State Department’s announcement on Thursday that the U.S. would impose sanctions against only one firm for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran has raised heckles from both right wing pundits and members of Congress who have called for the United States to take highly punitive measures against Russian, Chinese, Swiss and German companies who do business with the Islamic Republic.
If the Obama administration opts for only symbolic and selective measures, it could collapse our Iran policy, making it likely to require more drastic measures to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Observers in Tehran, Beijing, Moscow and elsewhere are watching. Will President Obama enforce the comprehensive sanctions he worked so hard to pass?
Dubowitz appears to be writing op-eds on a weekly, if not daily, basis calling for sweeping sanctions against any companies or individuals that do business with Iran. He has frequently called for the U.S. to “squeeze Russia and China”–two countries notoriously sensitive to public embarrassment and two U.S. bi-lateral relationships the Obama administration has worked hard to improve.
Any U.S. action will surely infuriate Moscow and Beijing, as well as those in Washington who have worked to “reset” our relations with both countries. Russia and China could retaliate in a variety of hardball ways that could greatly complicate American and European strategic interests. If Russia were to start delivering S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Tehran, for example, it could well provoke an Israeli preventive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
But today’s post by Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin suggests that there are others who aren’t from such neoconservative institutions as FDD, who are frustrated with the administration’s unwillingness to bring any and all sanctions busters in line.
Rogin points to a joint statement by Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in which the senators applauded the long list of companies which have ceased business operations in Iran but warned that:
We are particularly concerned that the majority of the companies that GAO identifies as still selling gasoline to Iran are in China. We urge the Administration to complete its own investigations swiftly and enforce the sanctions law, comprehensively and aggressively, against any violators.
On September 30, Jon Kyl said:
If President Obama genuinely believes that a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable, he must stand by those words and apply the authority Congress has given him to punish all who are violating U.S. sanctions laws, particularly China.
But, as Rogin notes, it might not be as simple as sanctioning Chinese companies.
Complicating matters are the persistent rumors that China may have secured some type of immunity from additional sanctions as part of their agreement to support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which established relatively benign sanctions against Iran as punishment for its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.
Given China’s increasing economic presence and international stature means that simplistic calls to “pressure” China might not be as realistic as hawks have been suggesting.
Then again, given the reality of a globalized economy where a sanctions regime is both difficult to put in place and enforce, perhaps neocons such as Dubowitz and Joe Lieberman (who recently indicated the U.S. should show that “a military strike is not just a remote possibility in the abstract, but a real and credible alternative policy that we and our allies are ready to exercise”) view Obama’s “symbolic and selective” enforcement of sanctions, as Dubowitz described them, as just one in a series of steps towards the inevitable calls for a military strike.