There is little agreement on whether U.S. policy towards Iran (the double-track strategy, engagement and pressure through sanctions), actually works, and how one measures success with the ambivalent behavior of the Iranian regime.
Today, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order that imposed sanctions on Iranian officials who Washington saw as complicit in serious human rights abuses following Iran's disputed June 2009 vote.
The document lists eight officials "who share responsibility for the sustained and severe violation of human rights in Iran since the June 2009 disputed presidential election."
Speaking at the executive order's joint press conference alongside U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "in signing this executive order, the president sends the message that the United States stands up for the universal rights of all people. "
"And as President Obama said at the United Nations last week, we will call out those who suppress ideas, we will serve as a voice for the voiceless, and we will hold abusive governments and individuals accountable for their actions," Clinton said.
Secretary of State Clinton also said that the order represented the first "time the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran based on human rights abuses. We would like to be able to tell you that it might be the last, but we fear not."
While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may continue travel to the United States, presenting his signature medley of 9-11 conspiracy theories at the United Nations' General Assembly, other senior Iran officials find themselves in trickier waters.
Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC); Sadeq Mahsouli, current Minister of Welfare and Security and former Minister of the Interior; Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, current Prosecutor General of Iran and former Minister of Intelligence; Saeed Mortazavi, former Prosecutor-General of Tehran; Heydar Moslehi, Minister of Intelligence; Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, current Minister of the Interior and former Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces for Law Enforcement; Ahmad-Reza Radan, Deputy Chief of Iran’s National Police; and Hossein Taeb, current Deputy IRGC Commander for Intelligence and former Commander of the IRGC’s Basij Forces – those people’s property in the United States "or in the possession or control of U.S. persons" will be blocked, with U.S. citizens prohibited from "engaging in transactions with them."
In June 2009 forces under control of Jafari, the executive order said, "participated in beatings, murder, and arbitrary arrests and detentions of peaceful protestors."
Forces commanded by Sadeq Mahsouli, now the Minister of Welfare and Social Security, "were responsible for attacks on the dormitories of Tehran University on June 15 2009, during which students were severely beaten and detained. "
"Detained students were tortured and ill-treated in the basement of the Interior Ministry building," the order was quoted as saying.
Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the Prosecutor General of Iran, who, during the protests, served as minister of intelligence, reportedly authorized confrontations with protesters, their arrests and the abuse of opposition detainees.
"The list of names is not exhaustive and will continue to grow based on events in Iran, and as additional information and evidence becomes available," a White House spokesman added in a statement," saying that, "as the President noted in his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, human rights are a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity for the United States."
"The United States will always stand with those in Iran who aspire to have their voices heard. We will be a voice for those aspirations that are universal, and we continue to call upon the Iranian government to respect the rights of its people," the statement said.
Report: Unclear whether sanctions influence Iran policy
Last week, Washington institute for the Near East Policy presented a report summarizing the strategy workshop on the U.S. policy towards Iran, titled "The Red Line: How to Assess Progress in U.S. Iran Policy."
The experts that took part in panels could hardly agree on these two – which reflects the seeming ambivalence of the U.S. administration policy.
Yes, we are exerting pressure on Iran, but the door is open. All the options are on the table, but another war is not really an option. There is an international consensus to isolate Iran, but China is only half-in, ready to take advantage of the trade opportunities in a vacuum left by other countries.
The Washington Institute report divides the experts’ responses between two schools: the first one stresses the importance of bilateral relations, and the success of engagement and establishing mechanisms to diminish misunderstandings are seen as a tool to prevent conflicts.
The other school underscores the strategic threat of Iranian behavior – support of terrorism, including some unhelpful involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the race to the nuclear bomb.
Washington obviously doesn’t see the human rights abuse in Iran as a primary problem or the improvement of its record as a measure of success. It has also to deal carefully with the Iranian opposition – too much Western support can discredit it, and, as the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman said at the recent CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) event.
"There are some in this city that believe that a clock in Iran for regime change move faster than the nuclear program – I don’t see this clock moving that fast," Berman said.
There is no agreement on an issue whether the sanctions are working, besides the U.S. officials remarks on "indications" that the Iranian government is "concerned."
There is another problem, of course – the way Teheran interprets Western actions. If the leadership indeed thinks that the nuclear issue is only a pretext to push the regime change – there is no room for compromise and Iran will pursue the nuclear program almost at any cost.
As for the possibility of war - Iran sees the U.S. as a declining power, one which is not necessarily prepared to a limited war, being focused in the last decade mainly on counterinsurgency. Besides, as the Washington Institute report states, limited conflict might well serve Iranian regime’s domestic political goals.
The report claims as well that “there is growing consensus among many security analysts: if preemptive force is appropriate, the United States should take the lead in the attack, not Israel.
The use of Israeli military force against U.S. wishes would be catastrophic for the U.S.-Israel relationship” – adding, however, that “there is no scenario imaginable in which the United States would use its own forces to disrupt an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.”
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