Nuclear-Related Sanctions On Iran Are No Longer Justified

by Peter Jenkins

The statements of US Senators and Representatives on the November 24 Iran/E3+3 Joint Plan have tended to be flawed in at least two ways.

First, Iran continues to be portrayed as a state that only responds to pressure and threats. This betrays a failure to grasp the nature of the changes ushered in by the election of Hassan Rouhani and by his appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif as Foreign Minister and chief nuclear negotiator.

Both Rouhani and, especially, Zarif are familiar to Western diplomats from the nuclear negotiations that took place between October 2003 and July 2005, and from Zarif’s long spell as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations.

In March 2005, Zarif made an offer to the UK, France and Germany that resembles the understandings reached on Nov. 24 in many respects. At that time Iran was not groaning under the weight of US and UN nuclear-related sanctions.

Rouhani and Zarif are not men who cringe when threatened or who buckle under pressure. They are men of character who realise that it was foolish and wrong of Iran to conceal certain nuclear activities from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prior to the autumn of 2003, who understand that this “policy of concealment” damaged Iran’s international reputation and prestige, and who have resolved to do whatever is necessary, within reason, to repair that damage and restore Iran to what they believe to be Iran’s rightful place in the world.

They concluded ten years ago that the way to achieve those objectives was to put a stop, using the authority of Iran’s Supreme Leader, to Iran’s fledgling nuclear weapons program (initiated not in order to destroy Israel but, defensively, to counter Saddam Hussein when it was learnt that he was developing nuclear weapons); to extend proactive cooperation to the IAEA; and to accept limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities, as long as those do not entail humiliation for Iran or the permanent sacrifice of international rights.

So all US politicians whose reasoning starts from an assumption that Iran seeks nuclear weapons, or cooperates only to deceive, or, like North Korea, cares nothing for its reputation, or is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, are mistaken. And that mistake vitiates their policy prescriptions and their tactical recommendations.

Of course Rouhani and Zarif represent the more moderate segment of Iranian opinion. In Iran’s elite there are some whose strategic outlook is more ideological and presents a greater threat to regional peace and US interests. But the whole course of Iran’s political evolution since 1979 suggests that the hard-line element in the elite is shrinking. The majority have lost their revolutionary zeal, their desire to export Iran’s revolution. The Islamic Republic is now predominantly a conservative, status quo state, which fights to defend its interests, not to spread its Islamic values; there are analogies with the political evolution of the USSR.

With such powers negotiation is possible; common ground can be found; and agreements can be sealed in the expectation that the opposing party will stick to its side of the bargain, out of self-interest. Such powers do not need to be bullied and harassed into making deals that are consistent with their sense of dignity and their strategic objectives.

A second feature of many Congressional reactions to the Joint Plan is the utter heartlessness and indifference to human distress.

The existing sanctions regime is inflicting hardship on millions of innocent Iranians, people as decent as the US citizens who elect US Representatives and Senators. US sanctions are no longer targeting those who were responsible for Iran’s policy of nuclear concealment. They are therefore unjust.

That injustice is compounded by the fact that sanctions have become unnecessary.
Most people accept that states may behave unethically, if the aim is to stamp out a threat to human safety. But in this case Iran’s nuclear activities no longer threaten the security of other states, and Iran’s new government is signalling for all to see that it has no intention of ever posing a nuclear threat. So sanctions have become redundant, an unjust superfluity.

In these circumstances advocating additional sanctions is callous and cruel, unworthy of a nation that has long prided itself on being a moral beacon, on occupying the moral high ground in the community of nations.

And that’s not all. Congressional attachment to sanctions demonstrates indifference to the interests of European and Asian allies. Europe and Asia have suffered economically from the imposition of sanctions. Consumers and business-people were ready to pay that price to prevent Iran becoming nuclear-armed. They are not ready to pay it to humour an Israeli hysteric or Saudi autocrats.

It would be nice to think that, in so healthy a democracy, US voters will exact retribution from Congressional enthusiasts for sanctions that are no longer justified. Fat chance?

Photo Credit: ISNA/Mehdi Ghasemi

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.



  1. An excellent analysis of the change that has taken place in Iran! In addition to being wrong and cruel, the continuation of nuclear-related sanctions is counterproductive and may make the whole sanctions regime to unravel.

    Already many European countries are talking to Iranian officials about new economic deals, many international oil companies want to resume their work in Iran’s lucrative oil and gas market, the EU court has declared some EU sanctions illegal and this will put more pressure on EU governments to lift the sanctions. Iran’s neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, are improving relations with Iran. Last week Tehran received UAE’s foreign minister. Iranian Foreign Minister Zari has started a tour of Persian Gulf littoral states, including Kuwait and Oman and may visit Riyadh and Bahrain soon. In a recent visit to Tehran, Turkish foreign minister and his Iranian counterpart decided to increase their cooperation across the board, including over Syria.

    So, it seems that with the exception of some hardliners in Israel and in the Congress the rest of the world has welcomed the Joint Plan and is moving towards a new era of cooperation with Iran. It would be a pity if the beacon of democracy and international peace would move in the opposite direction and miss a great opportunity for new beginnings in the Middle East.

  2. The last paragraph in Mr Jenkins article, especially the last two words, puts the spotlight squarely on the issue. Chance of success, well, this same U.S.Congress couldn’t sanction Wall Street for plunging the World into the economic mess it created, nor did it do anything to help the American Middle Class from the financial ruin either. But they sure can heap sanctions upon Iran & its People, even to the detriment of a Peaceful resolution to the Nuclear situation. Their only allegiance is too sucking up to the lobbyists who provide reelection monies, certainly not to the people who elected them.

  3. Great piece. And how many senators and congressmen are willing to block any deal with Iran, to please Aipac?

  4. On this point there is broad agreement that heavy economic sanctions have driven the Iranians to the bargaining table and fueled deep domestic pressure on its leadership to improve its international standing. So with all of the leverage on the side of the US and West, we extract an agreement that delivers nothing. No dismantling in centrifuges, no destruction of enriched uranium fuel, no condemnation of nuclear weapons, no liberalization of human rights abuses, no release of political prisoners as a gesture of goodwill, no lifting of media and internet blackouts, no halt in foreign interventions. Nothing.

  5. What “moral beacon”?, what “moral high ground in the community of nations”? Just take a look at the US involvements in crimes against humanity at least since 1953, with military coups in so many countries; or at least remember its Genocidal War in Vietnam based on fabricated reports. This is exactly one of the points that western analysts fail to consider when discoursing the US-Iranian crises since 1979. As a result of uncountable commissioned articles and ‘factual’ reports by so called ‘investigative’ journalists and experts the west has succeeded to create a MONSTER out of Iranians diverting attention from the western hypocrisy and its easily manipulated ‘international laws’ and ‘UN’ both of which have left dark legacies behind, given Saddam’s invasion of Iran and his use of chemical weapons strategically aided and morally supported by this ‘beacon’ of democracy, and the west’s silent cooperation and support for Israel’s arsenal of WMD and its war crimes and daily violations of the human rights in the occupied territories, arresting, torturing and imprisoning children as young as 9 years old; a point the majority of Iranians insist to be in spotlights when the western (Zionist dominated) media reiterates its concern for the human rights and its international laws!

    There are millions of highly motivated men and women in Iran who are as intelligent as Americans and highly educated and do not accept the western double standards as an ‘international law’ and its American, western/Zionist dominated UN as a ‘moral authority’. The deal with Iran so far has been an insult to their intelligence and integrity and it only needs a little more western pressure to backfire and force Rouhani shut the doors again.

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