U.S. Sanctions Go After Ordinary Iranians

The U.S.-led sanctions effort against Iran is indeed ‘biting.’ But rather than only eat away at the plates of those the sanction’s target, the program is also ‘biting’ lots of everyday Iranians.

Despite a long-held policy of going after regime figures and their associations — and not “Jamshid Average” — the Washington Post reports that planes operated by Iran Air are unable to refuel in most of Europe as the result of a deal struck last month between four European oil companies and the United States.

Thomas Erdbrink writes in the Post that this is part of a broader move to “discourage international businesses from dealing with Iran.” Thus, going after the refueling of Iranian jets

illustrates a shift away from an earlier U.S. policy of reaching out to the Iranian people and trying to target mostly state organizations central to Iran’s nuclear program. Officials now admit that the increased pressure is hurting ordinary Iranians but say they should blame their leaders for the Islamic republic’s increasing isolation.

[…] As a result of the canceled jet fuel contracts, all Iran Air planes departing from destinations such as Amsterdam, London and Stockholm are now forced to make lengthy fuel stops either at an airport in Germany or one in Austria, where Total of France and OMV of Austria are still providing the 66-year-old airline with jet fuel until their contracts run out, possibly as soon as next month. At that point, Iran Air could be forced to cancel or severely reduce flights.

Iran Air flies reports to fly about 500,000 passengers each year between Tehran and 11 European capitals and other destinations.

At his press conference on Friday, State Department Spokesperson P.J. Crowley told reporters (with my emphasis):

We want to see the Iranian people have the same opportunities to travel, to engage as others in the region and around the world have. And the only thing that’s impeding Iran from having that kind of relationship with the United States and the rest of the world is the government and policies of Iran. If they change their policies, if they meet their obligations then certainly, as we continue to offer the prospect of engagement and a different kind of relationship, that depends squarely on what Iran does and what policies it chooses to pursue.

Of course it is untrue that the behavior of the Iranian leadership is the only thing preventing Iranians from traveling around Europe. The U.S. sanctions program certainly bears some responsibility.

Crowley’s statement clearly conflates the Iranian leadership and the nation’s people: “Iranian people…impeding Iran…policies of Iran…they change their policies…what Iran does and what policy it chooses.”

If Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sticks by her claim earlier this year that Iranian is drifting toward a military dictatorship, and if anyone in the administration buys into the idea that the 2009 Iranian elections were fraudulent, it seems pretty tough to understand how the U.S. administration could be holding the Iranian people responsible for the actions of their leaders.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.