The effect of sanctions on Iran.

13 Feb

Victoria Nuland, State Dept. spokeswoman, press briefing, 7 Feb., 2012:

QUESTION: Just staying on Iran —


QUESTION: I mean, even though you note that the latest U.S. sanctions have exceptions for food and medicine and so on, what has already begun to happen…companies are…they’re just backing out of any dealing through Iran, including on food stuff. And we have reported over the weekend very extensively about the ways in which you’re starting to see almost sort of panic buying in parts of Iran, people stocking up on certain food stuffs. So whether you intend the sanctions to…you’re already seeing effects that clearly hurt the population. How do you address that? I mean, you’ve always said that you have no quarrel with the Iranian people, but is this what you actually want, that you want to see the sanctions squeeze the ordinary people so that they will try to get their government to change its policies?

MS. NULAND: Well, just as you have said, Arshad, we do have no quarrel with the Iranian people. In fact, it is the Iranian people’s future and their hopes and aspirations to live in a freer, more democratic state that actually provides for them rather than siphoning off vital resources of the state into the nuclear program that we are seeking to help them achieve here with these policies. Our sanctions are designed to make it hurt the Iranian regime, that it is making the choice not to come clean on its nuclear program, not to allow the IAEA in to see what it needs to see.

And we frankly do regret the fact that this has begun to have some knock-off effect on the people. And we are trying, through all of our media platforms to the Iranian people, to make clear that this is not directed at them, that our own policies do allow continued trading in food stuffs and medicines and medical supplies. But frankly, the bad choices that their government is making are chilling the international environment for any kind of trade with Iran. But all of this will end — Iran’s own isolation will end when it comes clean with the international community about its nuclear program and particularly makes clear that it — and demonstrates that it doesn’t have an intent to build a weapon.

QUESTION: Even if you regret it and even if you have (inaudible) exceptions for food and medicine, one of the clear effects of the sanctions passing or being signed into law on New Year’s Eve has been a depreciation in the Iranian currency. As a result of that – and this is on the front page of The New York Times,…there is considerable inflation as people are uncertain whether Iran will be able to continue to import foodstuffs or other essential goods. And it seems like you want to have it both ways: You want to be able to say, well, we regret that this hurts the Iranian people, we’re not really trying to hurt the Iranian people; but you are hurting the Iranian people.

MS. NULAND: Our message to the regime is that they need to look very hard at what their lack of openness, their lack of transparency, the fact that they continue to profess that they don’t have or want a nuclear weapons program but won’t demonstrate that to the world, what the knock-off effect of that is on their own people. These are their bad choices that are resulting in the situation on the ground in Iran.

QUESTION: Toria, the word around town that is used…that is used time and time again to describe as an alternative to war is crippling sanctions. How do you define crippling sanctions? What does that mean?…

MS. NULAND: It is twofold. It is first designed to cripple the flow of revenue that the regime can use to fund its nuclear ambitions. And secondly, it’s designed to make the choice for Iran crystal clear.

Victoria Nuland, press briefing two days later, 9 Feb., 2012

QUESTION: Financial sanctions on Iran are – increasingly seem to affect Iran’s ability to import food; you have reports that grain shipments are being – are channeled away from Iran. Palm oil is drying up for them. Does it concern you at all that this may now begin to hit the Iranian on the street? I mean, you constantly say that you want to put pressure on the government and not necessarily on the average citizen. But it seems like now, if you’re talking about food supplies, things could be getting very dicey. What’s the U.S. view on these – this impact of the sanctions regime?

MS. NULAND: Well, Andy, … we had a long discussion of this earlier in the week…Obviously, we have no beef with the Iranian people. In fact, our intention is to be able to end the isolation of Iran and have it reintegrated into the international community so that the Iranian people can live the way they want to live – in a state that is increasingly democratic and prosperous.

Unfortunately, the Iranian Government has not lived up to its international commitments, has not come clean with us about its nuclear program, and so we are having to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze economically…

I do want to make clear, as we said the other day, that with regard to U.S. sanctions, we do have carve-outs for the provision of food, medical equipment, medicines to the Iranian people because we don’t want to hurt them any more than we need to. But they are living in a state with a government that would rather spend money on a nuclear weapons program than on the welfare of its people, and that’s why we are compelled to increase the pressure and increase the isolation until they see the light.

QUESTION: But on this issue, Victoria, I mean, how would you avoid the situation? I understand that you don’t want to hurt the Iranian people, and that’s quite admirable, but how – what lessons have you learned, let’s say, from the Iraq situation where Iraq was not allowed to have graphite pencils or strings for the musical instrument for the Baghdad Philharmonic or things for medication and so on, where not only people suffer but also their culture suffers a great deal?

MS. NULAND: Again, those are not the kind of sanctions that we’re seeking. We’re seeking sanctions on those things that provide funding for the regime to continue to pursue its nuclear program, and that’s why these sanctions are focused on the government, are focused on crude oil.

QUESTION: But inevitably, you have things that are called dual use or double purpose and so on. How do you deal with that issue?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, we don’t have any gripe with the Iranian people at all, and we are doing our best to target this situation so that it is the Iranian regime that has to make the difficult choice ahead of it. And we do regret that this is having an impact on people, but it’s having an impact on people because their government is making a very bad choice for Iran’s future, and frankly, for regional security and global security.

This is our State Dept.  Our department of diplomatic outreach to the world, the face we present to other countries.  I know that we live in a rather casual linguistic environment here in the US, but (let me just get this off my chest) – do we really need to descend to the level of street-style mafioso language coming from our State Dept.?  Recall Hillary Clinton hideously giggling and throwing around what she thought of as witty repartee when Ghaddafi was assassinated?  “We came, we saw, he died.”  Indeed.  And Madeleine Albright casually saying that the half a million Iraqi children who died due to sanctions were “worth it”?

Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it. –60 Minutes (5/12/96)

Here we have Victoria Nuland saying to the press that the US “has no gripe” with the people of Iran and we regret any “knock-off effect” on them.  We have no gripe with those people.  Sounds like a couple of thugs talking about taking out the underlings by accident.  Yeah, well, youse knows we got no beef wit those babbos – it’s just that the capo di tutti capi has a thing about their capo, ya know how it is.

Word choice aside, she tells two outright lies in these press briefings.  First, Iran has no plans to develop nuclear weapons.  They do have plans to develop nuclear power plants.

US intelligence still maintains Iran is not working on nuclear weapons. UN nuclear inspectors confirm this view, though they have been pressured by the US, which pays a quarter of UN salaries, to suggest Iran might be working on something nefarious – though all Iran’s nuclear sites are under strict UN inspection and satellite surveillance….

Even Israel’s hawkish defense minister recently opined that Iran is still some years away from having the ability to deploy a nuclear-armed missile…

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said of the Iranians, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.”

Nuland’s second lie is that the UN nuclear arms inspectors have not been allowed into Iran. (“…the Iranian regime, that it is making the choice not to come clean on its nuclear program, not to allow the IAEA in to see what it needs to see.”)  The IAEA has been allowed into Iran as often as they have asked, to do their inspections; these inspections of Iranian facilities occur more frequently than in any other nation.  Matter of fact, a team of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors just visited Iran.  The result – no bomb-making going on.

Our State Dept. keeps stressing that Iran is “isolated”, an idea the American press seems to like well enough to repeat ad nauseam, although it is not factually correct.  Just a few days ago, Pakistan gave up on the taking-forever TAPI pipeline – long the dream of Washington, and the reason we are in Afghanistan – and agreed to streamline the Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline.  [ ]

Russia and China refused to participate in the sanctions against Iran.  In fact, China and Iran have been doing business together for about, oh, 2000 years.  (Anyone remember the phrase “The Silk Road”?)  They know very well how to negotiate with one another.  Furthermore, Iran is an observer nation in the Shanghai Cooperative Organisation (the SCO), which I have mentioned several times.  This is a group of countries which have formed a union (somewhat like NATO in the west) to cooperate on security, military, and economic matters.  China and Russia were two of the founding members of the group; India and Pakistan also have observer status along with Iran.  Iran currently has joint projects going with Venezuela and Ecuador, and Brazil and Turkey tried to broker a uranium swap deal with Iran so that Iran would not need to enrich its own uranium for power plants, but that deal was sabotaged by the US.  Iran is not isolated in the least.  And these countries propose, or are already, using currencies other than the dollar with which to trade for oil.

I can only marvel at Nuland’s suggestion that the problem here is that the Iranian government is making bad choices and wasting its taxpayer money on really bad stuff.  I do believe I have seen a number of polls showing that Americans, by and large, really hate the way our government wastes money on wars and weapons rather than using our money for the good of the people.  And we hate the bank bailouts, too; although no-one in Congress so far has called our banks “money-laundering schemes”, at least not in public.  In any case, we say we hate these things when given the chance to in anonymous polls; however, note must be taken that we fail to do anything at all about it.  Maybe we are more on board with the whole stealing America thing going on than these polls might suggest.  Maybe we need to sanction ourselves.

The Washington Post of 10 Jan. had a headline reading: “Goal of Iran sanctions is regime collapse, U.S. official says.”  Someone decided that just didn’t sound good, so it was changed, along with a few of the sentences in the article.  How many countries can we go to war with to force regime change, after all, without looking like complete bullies and international scofflaws?  The headline was altered to read, “Public ire one goal of Iran sanctions, U.S. official says.”  Which doesn’t sound very diplomatic either, in my opinion, although no-one asked me.  A portion of the original article is as follows:

The goal of U.S. and other sanctions against Iran is regime collapse, a senior U.S.intelligence official said, offering the clearest indication yet that the Obama administration is at least as intent on unseating Iran’s government as it is on engaging with it.

The official, speaking this week on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the administration hopes that sanctions “create enough hate and discontent at the street level” that Iranians will turn against their government.

The comments came as the administration readies punitive new sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank and the European Union moves toward strict curbs on Iranian oil imports. The increased pressure is intended to force Iranian officials to heed Western demands that they abandon alleged nuclear weapons plans.

But the intelligence official’s remarks pointed to a more profound goal, even as the administration has reiterated its willingness to open a dialogue with Iran. Although designed to pressure a government to change its policies, it is a recognized but generally unspoken reality that economic sanctions usually have far more effect on general populations than on elites….

You can read the new and “improved” article here:

Juan Cole has expressed some thoughts about the sanctions on Iran – and sanctions in general.

…I think blockading a civilian population for the purpose of instituting regime change in a state toward which no authorization of force has been issued by the UN Security Council may well be a war crime. Even advocating a war crime can under some circumstances be punishable, as happened at the Nuremberg trials.

Unlike Israel (Egypt 1956, 1967; Lebanon 1982, 2006) or the US (Iraq 2003), Iran has not unilaterally attacked a nation that had not attacked it, and Iran has not occupied other states’ territory. Both Israel and the US have stockpiles of nuclear warheads. Iran doesn’t have a single one and doesn’t even have a nuclear weapons program. Since Iran has not attacked anyone (and hasn’t done so for over a century), and since the UNSC has not authorized the use of force against Tehran, it would be illegal under the UN Charter for the US or Israel to attack Iran.

Moreover, the toxic and radioactive materials released on civilians in Isfahan as a result of an attack on the Natanz facilities would pose a significant hazard to civilian life in that city– another war crime…

I doubt the Pentagon or State Dept. care much what Professor Cole thinks; his thinking on the subject of Iran differs vastly for some reason from his thinking on Libya (he supported the NATO bombardment of Libya, and was widely quoted then).  The US and NATO just finished bombing Libya to hell and gone, including bombing civilian infrastructures and the water supply, and authorized the assassination of Libya’s leader.  The razing of the entire country of Libya and the resulting deaths of tens of thousands of its citizens was illegal by international standards from start to finish, and little effort was made to hide the fact that it was carried out specifically for the purpose of regime change.

I am going to side-track here and mention an article which I read on  According to the article, Obama invoked the NDAA and the Nat’l Emergency Powers Act when signing the statement regarding sanctions on Iran.  This means he can authorize war with Iran without seeking approval from Congress.

On February 5, 2012, President Obama invoked the NDAA, which authorizes the use of military force, and issues an executive order declaring the “threat” of Iran a National Emergency. The video below shows this issuance of President Obama executive order which declares Iran’s threat to cut off oil supplies a national emergency.

The executive order directs all government agencies to respond immediately to the threat. It further invokes the authority of the 2012 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) which gives the President the power to launch military action against any nation without the approval of Congress. Ironically, the State of Emergency order also accuses the Iranian central bank of deceptive banking practices.

The official executive order can be read here:

Returning to the issue of the sanctions and the effect on the general population of Iran, I will close with a bit of an article from a few days ago.  Eventually, the Iranian economy will rebound, as the government there works out new trade agreements with other members of the international community, especially if they go totally off the dollar as a trading mechanism.  In the end, it may be the US and Europe who are hurt economically by the global toll of these sanctions.  Immediately, however, the sanctions are causing terrible inflation in Iran and the effect is mostly felt by the civilian population.  It is very likely that the plan to encourage the Persians to arise against their own government will backfire, since the Iranian people are less likely to blame their own government than they are to blame the US and Europe.  They know who is sanctioning them and the pain of the sanctions may well cause an up-swelling of nationalism in the people.  In the US, we say, “our country – love it or leave it”.  Do we suppose the Iranians will not likewise band together to face the economic enemy of their country?  Do we suppose that they do not see the sanctions as a form of asymmetrical warfare?

(Reuters) – Each day that he struggles to buy food for his family, vegetable seller Hasan Sharafi shoulders part of the burden of Iran’s defiance of the West over its nuclear programme. He can hardly bear it.

“Prices are going up every day, life is expensive. I buy chicken or meat once per month. I used to buy it twice per week,” the father of four said in Iran’s central city of Isfahan.  “Sometimes I want to kill myself. I feel desperate. I do not earn enough to feed my children.”

With just a month to go before a parliamentary election, Iran has been hit hard in recent months by new U.S. and European economic sanctions over its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is peaceful but the West says is aimed at making a bomb.

In conversations in towns and cities across Iran, people complained of rapidly deteriorating economic conditions, likely to be the main issue in an election that exposes divisions between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and hardline opponents…

“My father lost his job because the factory he used to work for 30 years was closed last month. I am so pessimistic. Why is this happening to us?” lamented mathematics student Behnaz in the northern city of Rasht.

“I don’t know whether the prices are rising because of sanctions. The only thing that I know is that our lives are ruined. I have no hope for the future.”

Iran’s leaders deny that sanctions are having an economic impact, but are also calling for solidarity in the face of them. In a defiant speech on Friday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranians sanctions would make them stronger.

“Such sanctions will benefit us. They will make us more self reliant,” he said in a televised address marking the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution. “Sanctions will not have any impact on our determination to continue our nuclear course.”

Such rhetoric resonates with some Iranians, who say they are willing to endure pain to defend a nuclear programme that has become a symbol of national pride.

“America uses the nuclear issue as an excuse to replace our regime with a puppet regime to control our energy resources. But we will not let them. Nuclear technology is our right and I fully support our leaders’ view. Death to America,” said student Mohammad Reza Khorrami in the northern town of Chalous….

“What is the nuclear dispute? Don’t waste my time asking irrelevant questions,” said 62-year-old peddler Reza Zohrabi in a marketplace overflowing with imported Chinese goods in the city of Kashan. “I’m not interested in talking about politics and the nuclear issue. I have to find ways to put bread on my family’s table.”

Iranian authorities say 15 percent of the country’s workforce is unemployed. Many formal jobs pay a pittance, meaning the true figure of people without adequate work to support themselves is probably far higher….

Since the sanctions have only begun to bite, far greater pain is looming. Oil is 60 percent of Iran’s economy. Much of its food and animal feed are imported, and many of its factories assemble goods from imported parts.

Already, ships bringing grain have been turning back from Iranian ports because Tehran cannot pay suppliers: an agricultural consultancy said maize imports from Ukraine – a major source of animal feed – fell 40 percent last month…

For those who link the hardship to international sanctions, the most vivid example is neighboring Iraq, where an embargo imposed between 1991 and the U.S. invasion in 2003 reduced a wealthy oil exporting country to dire poverty.

“I don’t want Iran to become like Iraq before America’s invasion. With the sanctions, soon we will have problems finding essential goods and even medicine,” said 31-year-old teacher Rokhsareh Sharafoleslam in Chalous….

Prices for bread, dairy, rice, vegetables and cooking fuel have soared. A traditional Iranian loaf of “sangak” bread costs 30 percent more than a few months ago….

“Prices are increasing by the hour. My husband and I cannot afford starting a family as life is so expensive,” said Mahla Aref, a government employee.

Small businesses say they are struggling to operate as the falling currency raises the cost of goods…

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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Iran, MIC, SCO, State Dept/diplomacy


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