We’ve already covered the announcement of new sanctions against Iran ahead of upcoming talks in Istanbul, but recent reports have provided a troubling broad and detailed picture that suggests the U.S. dual-track approach — pressure and engagement — might be going off the rails.
Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon on Tuesday, with my emphasis:
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration enacted new financial sanctions on Iran’s elite military unit and the country’s largest shipping company, as the U.S. intensifies efforts to choke Tehran off from the global financial system.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s announcement Tuesday comes just weeks ahead of a scheduled second round of negotiations in Turkey between Iran and the international community focused on containing Tehran’s nuclear program, which Iran says is peaceful in nature.
Senior U.S. officials said the new measures illustrate that Washington and its allies won’t relax their financial campaign against Iran even as the diplomatic process continues in late January. “It’s clear that our policy is going to be to continue to impose pressure on Iran so long as it defies its international obligations,” said Stuart Levey, the Treasury’s point man on Iran sanctions.
The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, held an earlier diplomatic round with Iran on Dec. 6-7 in Geneva. The talks registered little progress and have sparked concern that Iran may seek to use the diplomacy as a means to deflect international pressure while continuing to advance its nuclear capabilities.
The Journal, among other outlets, reported the new sanctions target the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and various linked organizations, including several banks and an insurance company that works with Iran’s state-run shipping company.
As for the notion that the West is skeptical about continuing diplomacy, David Crawford, also at the Journal, had this report last weekend (again with my emphasis):
The U.S. and representatives of the European Union have agreed to impose joint sanctions against Iran in January and are considering breaking off talks with the country, as patience with Tehran’s nuclear activities wears thin, according to people familiar with the matter.
Western officials are discussing making further talks with Iran contingent on Tehran’s progress toward compliance with existing United Nations Security Council resolutions, which call on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog. […]
Some Western officials accuse Iran of playing for time by agreeing to talks but refusing to engage in meaningful negotiations. Senior diplomats from the U.S., U.K. and France met in Paris on Tuesday to chart the new course, amid growing frustration over Iran’s obstruction of IAEA inspections. London and Paris help to coordinate policy for the entire EU on Iran.
Could the Obama administration really be stiffening its spine and responding to the advice of those warning that talks with the Iranian regime are counterproductive?
We summed up her blog post thusly in our Daily Talking Points:
The Post’s neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin picks up on a Wall Street Journal story where anonymous U.S. officials comment that the United States may soon abandon engagement with Iran. “Could the Obama administration really be stiffening its spine and responding to the advice of those warning that talks with the Iranian regime are counterproductive?” she asks hopefully. She interviews Foreign Policy Initiative’s Jamie Fly, who remarks: “I’m skeptical that they will be the ‘crippling’ sanctions we were promised but have yet to see.” Rubin also speaks to an “advisor to a key senator” who says, “My point is just that they are very well-positioned to pursue a very hawkish policy towards Iran now.” Rubin then espouses her own Iran policy: “The real issue is whether the administration will, if needed, employ force to disarm the revolutionary Islamic state.” She is doubtful, but hopes that the next U.S. president will attack Iran.