Major players rebuff US on Iran sanctions

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Awwal 09, 1433 2012-02-01

Main Stories

by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 12, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1433)

Can US leaders — in the executive as well as congressional branches — be considered rational? Almost daily, they threaten to bomb Iran, not to mention the imposed raft of sanctions aimed at undermining the Islamic Republic. The latest round of sanctions was slipped through the inappropriately named National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA). US President Barack Obama signed the NDAA on the last day of 2011 when most people were engrossed in New Year festivities to take much notice.

Under the NDAA (passed by Congress on December 14), the US would impose sanctions on any company purchasing Iranian oil or dealing with Iran’s Central Bank. This is a declaration of economic and financial war against Iran, yet American officials think it is legitimate business. The purpose is to force Tehran to stop uranium enrichment and ultimately overthrow the Islamic system. Enriching uranium is Iran’s legitimate right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of which it is a signatory. The NPT requires member states to assist rather than hinder Iran in this quest.

This is meant to encourage countries to sign the NPT thereby preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons while supporting them in the peaceful use of nuclear material. Instead, the US and its allies deliberately peddle the lie that Iran is surreptitiously trying to make the bomb. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the body tasked with monitoring nuclear proliferation, has found no evidence of any illegal diversion of enriched uranium by Iran but under US pressure, has deliberately issued vague reports to create confusion to facilitate the US agenda.

The IAEA has also indulged in outright lies against Iran without providing any proof of wrongdoing.The US campaign against Iran has now assumed a more vicious form. American officials have gone to the European Union (EU), Turkey, China, Japan and India urging them to halt, or at the very least reduce import of Iranian oil. Since oil is the mainstay of Iran’s economy, it is an attempt at strangulation. This campaign, however, is not getting much traction, not least because countries like China, Japan, India and Turkey do not accept US extraterritoriality in their international dealings. Even some European countries, among them Spain and Italy, have said they cannot go along with US demands because their economies, already suffering financial meltdown, would be dealt further blows.

On January 23, while the EU announced a new set of restrictions on Iranian oil imports, these will only go into effect in July. Ali Fallahian, an Iranian Member of Parliament, said Tehran should immediately stop oil supply to Europe and let the price rise. This will make them realize that they cannot bully or pressure Iran and that such pressure is not only one way.While the Europeans may be forced to toe the US line, others are not so keen to roll over.

On January 11 when US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner visited Beijing to urge Chinese officials to reduce Iranian oil imports, Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping brushed him off. The Chinese leader, who is soon to become president upon Hu Jintao leaving the post, also dismissed American demands to float the Chinese currency, the yuan, to raise its value vis-à-vis the US dollar. This would result in Chinese exports becoming more expensive, thereby affecting them adversely. On his Middle Eastern tour from January 14 to 18 visiting Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was similarly dismissive of US demands to curtail purchase of Iranian oil.

On his last stop Wen held a press conference in Doha, Qatar on January 18 at which he announced that China’s purchase of Iranian oil was part of “normal trade.” He rejected trade being held hostage to diplomatic or political considerations. China has repeatedly stressed that negotiations, not sanctions, were the way to deal with Iran’s nuclear issue.China’s Vice Foreign Minister for US relations, Cui Tiankai, was even more forthright in rejecting US demands. In his meeting with Geithner in Beijing, he said that China supported global non-proliferation efforts, but trade was separate from the Iranian nuclear program. “The normal trade relations and energy cooperation between China and Iran have nothing to do with the nuclear issue. We should not mix issues of different nature, and China’s legitimate concerns and demands should be respected” (emphasis added). This was a polite way of telling the Americans to get lost. Cui added that Iran had the right to develop peaceful nuclear power. “This issue cannot be resolved by sanctions alone. It must fundamentally be solved through negotiation.”

Geithner had only marginally more success in Tokyo but this had to do with traditional Japanese politeness rather than any fundamental shift in policy. The Japanese said they would reduce their purchases of Iranian oil but only gradually. Given that 17% of Iranian oil exports go to Japan, second only to China with 20%, the Japanese cannot afford to lose a reliable source of energy to fulfill the political agenda of the US whose power and influence are in any case waning. Other importers of Iranian oil in descending order are: India (16 %), Italy (10 %) and South Korea (9%). A spokesperson for Japan’s Trade Ministry asserted that considering the large volume of oil imported from Iran (comprising 10% of total Japanese imports), Japan’s ability to manage a sharp reduction was highly limited since urging companies to switch from Iranian crude oil had no legal foundation. Thus, the Japanese also made clear that American laws did not apply to them. They are already carrying the burden of 50,000 American occupation troops 67 years after the end of World War II and appear to be getting irritated by the overbearing Americans.

Of all the countries, Turkey’s response has been the most interesting. While a member of NATO that eagerly went along with the West’s war on Libya and is currently hosting a number of Syrian opposition groups including the so-called Free Syrian Army as part of the US-Zionist agenda to destabilize the Syrian regime, Turkey has refused to accept US demands vis-à-vis Iran. “Turkey has said it is not bound by new oil sanctions against Iran,” declared Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, as quoted in the Financial Times of London on January 13. He told reporters that his country did not consider itself covered by the latest EU and US sanctions and that “at the moment our imports continue and as of today there is no change in our road map.”

Less than a week later (January 19), Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, welcoming his Iranian counterpart Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi to Istanbul, said that Iran was ready for talks. “The sides have confirmed their willingness,” he said. “Today is the day for negotiations and a solution.” This was a slap in the face of the Western warmongers and a rejection of American and Israeli threats against Iran. Even the French are opposed to any military strike against Iran fearing the consequences of the blowback would be horrendous but they continue to issue threatening statements against Iran as part of the Western crusader mentality. While vowing to defend themselves and to give a fitting response to any aggression, leaders of the Islamic Republic have shown flexibility and a willingness to enter into serious discussions with the Five-Plus-One (five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany).

French officials, however, allege that Tehran has not responded to an October letter from the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, offering a resumption of talks, so long as there are no preconditions and Iran is willing to discuss the main issue, which is its nuclear enrichment program. Tehran has insisted that for serious negotiations to take place, the Security Council must first lift all sanctions already in place and recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium under the NPT. The West took past Iranian concessions as signs of weakness. For instance, between 2003 and 2005, Iran suspended uranium enrichment and even accepted additional inspection protocols far beyond its NPT obligations, on the understanding that sanctions would be lifted and there would be serious negotiations.

For two years, the West refused to hold any serious discussions and when Iran announced that it was resuming enrichment it was immediately presented as Tehran “going back” on its pledges. The Islamic Republic had not pledged to halt uranium enrichment permanently but as part of a comprehensive package. The West, however, refused to fulfill its part of the deal insisting that Iran must comply with their demands.In 2007 and again in 2010, Iran proposed swapping a large part of its 3.5% enriched uranium in return for fuel rods for a research medical reactor in Tehran but the West was only interested in playing games. It insisted Iran must hand over its entire inventory of enriched uranium and wait until the West had enriched it to 20% before handing it back to Tehran.

The Islamic Republic refused to accept such a deal clearly seeing through the West’s duplicity. Western governments have repeatedly violated their pledges. The most glaring example is America’s refusal to allow spare parts to be sent for Iran’s aging Boeing fleet of aircraft used by Iran Air to ferry passengers. This puts the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk yet the US and its allies still insist Iran must trust them!In their dealings with Iran, Western governments have been completely disingenuous. A number of them — the US and Britain, for instance — have frozen tens of billions of dollars worth of Iranian assets and refuse to honour their international obligations whose rules in any case have been set by the West itself.

Under such circumstances and the long record of Western duplicity, Iran refuses to be lulled into accepting Western assurances. It is left with little choice but to safeguard its interests to the best of its ability.Given the bitter experience of many countries in their dealings with the US and Europe, they are no longer willing to accept Western imperial diktats. Soon after Obama signed the NDAA into law, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran embarked on a highly publicized visit to Latin America. From January 4 to 11, he visited Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. He not only held detailed discussions with the leaders of these countries but also signed huge investment and financial agreements. This was widely interpreted, even in the Western media, as a slap in the face of Obama. US-European threats do not carry much weight these days and countries in Asia and Latin America are beginning to chalk out their own independent course. Islamic Iran has led the way despite facing mounting pressure and threats.

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