Iran Expert: White House must Avoid Temptation to Dilute Sanctions

Washington Jan. 11 – The new sanctions against Iran being enacted or considered by the United States and the European Union are the toughest yet and the best chance of avoiding military action to halt Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, Middle East security expert Ilan Berman said in a TIP conference call on Wednesday.

But the Obama administration must resist pressure from allies like Japan, Turkey and South Korea to grant them waivers to avoid seeing the sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran being watered down, said Berman who is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.

“Sanctions can be diluted by political considerations. South Korea, Turkey and Japan are already beginning to talk about a waiver to these sanctions that would create loopholes that would allow Iran’s energy sector to stay in business,” Berman said in the teleconference briefing organized by The Israel Project.

Crude oil and its derivatives account for nearly 80 percent of Iran’s exports. The money it receives is channeled through the Central Bank of Iran but the recently enacted U.S. Defense Appropriations Act gives the Obama administration the power to force foreign financial entities that wish to do business with the United States to break their relations with the Iranian bank. This would potentially paralyze Iran’s ability to sell its oil abroad.

The EU is considering even tougher sanctions that would effectively bar its 27 members from buying oil from Iran. Berman said there was a growing international realization that tough sanctions may be the only way to avoid military action against the Iranian nuclear program.

Still, he estimated that there was at least a 50 percent chance of military action because even these tough new sanctions might not succeed in persuading the rulers of the Islamic Republic to step back from their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“I’m not a gambling man. If I was, I’d say it’s certainly heartening that you see an increasing amount of economic pressure against Iran – but there’s enough empty space in the world economy for Iran to operate in,” Berman said.

“I think sanctions should be pursued (However) I think there’s at least a 50-50 chance that sanctions will fall short and there will be a need to resort to military action.”

In recent weeks, the Iranians have stepped up their threats to block the Straits of Hormuz through which 20 percent of all the oil traded in the world passes. The threats spooked oil markets for a few days and were designed to weaken the international will to enforce the sanctions. Now, Tehran is again offering negotiations – a well-worn delaying tactic which would allow them to move ahead with their program.

Meantime, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been on a four-country tour of Latin America, stopping in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Cuba. Part of the reason for increasing ties with this region lie in Iran’s pursuit of new sources of raw uranium for its nuclear weapons and Venezuela has the second largest naturally occurring deposits in the world.

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