Iran Sanctions more difficult after Lebanon


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

August 23, 2006
Iran Sanctions Could Fracture Coalition

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 ‹ It was always going to be tough for Secretary of State 
Condoleezza Rice to hold together her fragile coalition of world powers trying 
to rein in Iran¹s nuclear ambitions. The Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon has 
made that job harder.

While Iran¹s official response to the package of carrots from the United States,
Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China was, at 21 pages, voluminous, the key
point is that Iran¹s leaders did not agree to suspend enrichment of uranium, the
central demand of the coalition.

Now the question is whether Ms. Rice, who returned from vacation this week and 
was studying Iran¹s response, can keep the coalition together to take out their 
sticks against Iran.

That will not be easy, in part because the entire United Nations Security 
Council is supposed to vote on the sanctions package. While only the permanent 
members can veto, the rising fear, particularly among European diplomats, is 
that smaller countries on the Council are so angry over how the United States, 
and now France, have handled the Lebanon crisis that they will give Russia and 
China political cover to balk against imposing tough sanctions.

While France, for instance, has been almost as insistent on a tough stance 
against Iran¹s nuclear program as the United States, France has also in recent 
days alienated many members of the Security Council by offering only 200 troops 
to a peacekeeping effort in Lebanon.

³The Lebanese situation has caused a lot of bad faith and I think that will play
into this,² said one European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity 
under normal diplomatic rules.

Getting the group to punish Tehran was always going to be difficult. Russia and 
China have deep economic interests in Iran and dislike the blunt instrument of 
sanctions. And the West must tread carefully because any sanctions levied in the
place that could actually hurt Iran ‹ its energy sector ‹ would ratchet up 
already high global oil prices and end up harming the West.

That was the tough road Ms. Rice faced even before the Lebanon crisis began. 
Now, ³Lebanon has proven that there¹s no military solution to the problem in the
Middle East,² said Trita Parsi, the Iranian-born author of ³Treacherous 
Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States,² which Yale
University Press plans to publish next year.

While there is no talk among the world powers right now about hitting Iran 
militarily, European diplomats in particular said they worried about a downward 
spiral if the sanctions did not work. ³They¹ve been dragged into three wars over
there by the U.S.,² Mr. Parsi said, referring to Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. 
³They don¹t want a fourth.²

Bush administration officials have said Ms. Rice received assurances in June 
that Russia would, at a minimum, sign on to a first phase of weak sanctions if 
Iran refused to suspend uranium enrichment. Those sanctions would most likely 
include a ban on travel by Iranian officials and curbs on imports of 
nuclear-related technology.

United States officials have worked hard to portray their coalition as united, 
and disputed suggestions that the group could fracture. ³Will there be some 
slippage? Sure,² one senior Bush administration official said, speaking on 
condition that he not be identified because he was not authorized to talk 
publicly. But, he said, ³I don¹t think there¹s any question that there will be a
resolution on sanctions.²

But the initial sanctions will undoubtedly be too weak to be effective, said 
some diplomats, who also predicted trouble if the United States tried to prod 
Russia and China to take aim at Iran¹s energy sector. Iran sits on some of the 
largest known oil reserves, but is forced to import more than 40 percent of its 
gasoline because it does not have the refinery capacity it needs.

What is more, China and Russia both have energy companies invested in Iran, and 
they, along with European countries, would likely think hard before agreeing to 
prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil or to limit investment in Iran¹s petroleum 

And if Iran has indeed held out the possibility of having talks about suspending
uranium enrichment, as some reports indicated, that could further fracture the 

The United States, Britain, France and Germany planned to meet Wednesday to 
discuss the Iranian proposal and the prospect of drawing up a sanctions 
resolution. But it is notable that the meeting will not include Russia and 

Meanwhile, smaller Council members are suffering from enforcement fatigue, 
analysts said, made worse by the specter of figuring out how to implement the 
Council¹s resolution calling for a cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel in 
Lebanon and the eventual disarming of Hezbollah. Iran has emerged stronger from 
the Lebanon crisis by showing the world that it is capable of wreaking havoc 
through its support of the Hezbollah militants.

³Lebanon makes this worse because it creates an environment where the Iranians 
can say, ŒIf you push us, we can cause real trouble and heartache for you,¹ ² 
said George Perkovich, director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment 
for International Peace in Washington.

The Iraq war has demonstrated the peril of going after strong regimes, and 
Israel¹s failure to destroy Hezbollah ³erased any doubt people had about what 
happens when you get real tough with bad actors,² he said.

Going after Iran when Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon all remain unresolved would 
be an enforcement challenge for world leaders, he said.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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