Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Tough Sanctions Proposal? Let's Wait and See

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that the United States has a very tough sanctions' draft resolution,supported by China and Russia, to present the UN Security Council. No one in the media knows what's in this proposal and thus whether the claim is true or not cannot yet be determined. I find it hard to believe this is true but if I'm wrong I will certainly say so.

A possible tip-off, though, is that Clinton said the resolution will send a message to Iran that the Security Council is united on the issue. This implies that the most important thing is not that the sanctions be tough but that the Obama Administration gets a unanimous vote on them. In other words, to present this as a "victory" for the domestic audience and to "send a signal" to Tehran, the White House will sacrifice the substance of sanctions. In other words, Iran will not be affected and can easily afford to ignore them.

But the issue at this point is not whether sanctions will be effective in stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons but rather whether the United States will make such a bad showing as to convince everyone that it is worthless and weak. That is, after 18 months of the Obama Administration--and probably its last chance to do something before Tehran gets the arms--the best it could produce was a ludicrously minimal response.

The UN Security Council members will vote on whatever proposed resolution emerges at the end of the bargaining process. These include the five permanent members--France, Russia, and China, United States, United Kingdom--and those elected for a two-year term: Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, Uganda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon, and Nigeria.

At least three countries in the last group--Lebanon (which is close to being an Iranian satellite) and both Brazil and Turkey (which have just brokered a pro-Iranian proposal to avoid sanctions)--are not likely to support any sanctions beyond the tiniest symbolic ones. Aside from Russia and China, a number of others are likely to oppose any serious sanctions.

The idea that the United States is going to get through tough sanctions by a unanimous vote seems rather unlikely, but let's see what Clinton is actually proposing before reaching any judgment about it.

The questions raised in this pre-proposal article are answered HERE.

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