Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sanctions vs. Incentives

In the process of digging around for something to tie a few Iran-based stories together, I actually got around to reading the UN sanctions resolution to see just what kinds of economic activities had been prohibited. Not much, it turns out. Anything relating to uranium enrichment is off the table, as are Iranian arms exports. A handful of nuclear-related organizations got blacklisted and had their foreign assets frozen, and a number of high-ranking officials involved with the nuclear program were forbidden to travel abroad. (There's a summary of the sanctions here.) But besides that, it's hard to see how they're supposed to put the squeeze on Tehran.

So it's no wonder that the Bush administration has resorted to unilateral sanctions (most notably a banking blacklist that's gotten some results but is gradually being weakened), as well as exerting bi-lateral pressure in order to isolate Tehran economically. It's also no wonder, given Iran's enormous gas and oil reserves, that for every one step forward on the isolation front, there's three steps back. (Step one, step two, step three.)

The biggest surprise I got from reading the UN resolution, in fact, is the pretty generous package of incentives codified into the resolution's 2nd Annex titled "Elements of a long-term agreement" (scroll about halfway down the link), all in return for Iran quite simply suspending its uranium enrichment activity, submitting to the Additonal Protocol it has already signed with the IAEA, and satisfying all of the IAEA's outstanding concerns about the history of its program (which allows the IAEA to account for material and verify that nothing's been diverted towards military uses).

It's a pretty comprehensive incentive package, which makes Iran's adamant refusal to suspend its enrichment program while at the same time refusing to comply with its obligations under the NPT (which would legitimize its right to the nuclear fuel enrichment cycle) all the more incomprehensible. One of the reasons for their high-risk posture is obviously that they feel pretty confident they can get away with it. But if the goal is really just to increase its domestic energy supply (despite its massive reserves, Iran has an underdeveloped domestic energy sector), it seems like a less confrontational stance would accomplish the goal more quickly and with more longterm stability.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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