A Slap on the Mullahs' Wrist

The U.S. imposes "sanctions" on Iran -- and the Islamic Republic rolls its eyes.

While the US slaps sanctions on Iran for its human rights abuses, a new UN report shows the determination and ease by which the Islamist state avoids the sanctions’ intended effects.

The sanctions by the US State and Treasury Departments were issued in an attempt to punish Iran for its brutal crackdown on its ongoing protest movement, one which originally arose out of the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election.

Specifically, the sanctions were aimed at three Iranian security institutions: the Iranian national police force; the Revolutionary Guard; and the Basiji militia. Consequently, all their assets that are under American jurisdiction will be frozen and any American citizens or institutions will be prohibited from conducting business with them.

Also on the same day that the US announced its sanctions, the European Union published an updated roster of 111 blacklisted Iranian companies and banks.

Even though most Iranian leaders harshly denounced both moves, perhaps a more accurate assessment of their feelings were expressed by a top Iranian lawmaker, Kazzem Jalali, who called the US sanctions in particular a “humorous act.”

Sadly, at this point in time, it’s difficult for the Iranian leadership to not find some humor in the latest Western-imposed sanctions to be dropped on them. After all, as evidence continues to show, the litany of imposed economic sanctions have not deterred the Iranians from abandoning their repressive tactics; slowing down their military build-up; or halting their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The latest evidence of their failure has come in a new, soon-to-be released UN report, one prepared months back and submitted three weeks ago to the UN Security Council. In addition to monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, the report also tracked Iranian efforts to develop medium and long-range missiles.

To that end, the UN report revealed that since mid-2010 Iran has increased its efforts to develop long-range missiles, specifically citing Iranian test trials on its Shabab-3 and Sejil-1 missiles, both which have a range of 1,000 kilometers.

In addition, the Iranians also tested the medium-range Fateh-110 missile. Disturbingly, Fateh-110 missiles have been supplied in recent years to Hezbollah and have the capacity to reach Tel Aviv and beyond if launched from Lebanon.

On top of that, Iran also recently and successfully tested its newly constructed air defense system, Mersad. That system -- designed by Iranians -- has an advanced launcher; electronic targeting and guidance systems; and is capable of hitting jet fighters traveling at supersonic speeds.

Furthermore, Iran has now promised to use the Mersad system to defend not only it but other Muslim nations. According to Iranian Parliamentarian Speaker Ali Larijani, “We do not hide our defensive advancement and (we) have designed advanced missile systems…Israel and the US should know that if they want to act violently toward Muslims, we will stand in their way.”

The UN report also states that Iran has continued to advance its missile and nuclear capabilities by bypassing UN-imposed sanctions “across all areas, in particular the use of front companies, concealment methods in shipping, and financial transactions.”

For example, Iran has been trying to circumvent sanctions by purchasing foreign banks and money-exchange bureaus around the world.  Using these fronts, the Iranians launder money through intermediary banks in order to purchase blacklisted equipment.

To transfer that equipment, Iran then uses its fleet of cargo freighters, which are controlled by the state-owned IRISL shipping company. The UN report revealed that between 2008 and mid-2010, 76 out of 123 of these vessels was repainted and had their Farsi names replaced with English ones.

Of course, the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to force the Iranians to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons. Yet the Iranians remain undeterred from attaining that objective as recent events attest.

While nuclear-weapons material needs a uranium enrichment level of 90 percent, Iran has now claimed to hold 110 pounds of 20-percent enriched uranium. The news led Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association in Washington, to say Iran’s announcement “puts the world on notice” about its commitment to continuing its enrichment effort.

This revelation had been preceded days earlier by the declaration by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran “maintains its uranium enrichment and heavy water-related activities…and continues to test missiles and engage in prohibited procurement.” It was a statement that led the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to call the IAEA’s accusations a pack of “lies,”

Still, this verbal volley did not dissuade Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi from indicating Iran’s willingness to participate in nuclear talks, “If they (West) are ready (for talks), we are ready.”

Salehi’s willingness to engage in continued talks may be rooted in the recent shifting of some Westerners in their perceptions over Iran’s nuclear program. In a recently released joint memo, a group of former European ambassadors stated that Iran’s nuclear activities are consistent with international law.

They noted that “nothing in international law or in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty forbids the enrichment of uranium” and that “the IAEA has never uncovered in Iran any attempted diversion of nuclear material to military use”

Of course, that view may very well constitute a minority opinion among Western leaders. However, it is fairly safe to say that a growing majority have come to realize the limited effect the continued wave of sanctions has had on Iran.

A small case in point is the recent announcement by the head of Iran’s Organization for Investment and Economic and Technical Assistance that 2010 saw the Islamic Republic reach its highest rate of direct foreign investment, breaking the previous record from 2009.

So, despite a fourth round of UN-imposed economic sanctions in June 2010 -- which also included US and European Union unilateral sanctions against the energy and banking sectors of the Islamic Republic – Iran has not been moved from pursuing its deadly agenda.

Now, the US is trying the same tactic yet again to deter Iran’s rulers from torturing, jailing and killing their citizens. Unfortunately for those dissident Iranians, if past evidence of this approach is any indicator, their suffering will only continue.

Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank's work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.