With the fear of Iran emerging as the next nuclear weapons state, Washington stepped up their economic sanctions on Monday. The new mandates give U.S. banks the ability to freeze assets associated with the Iranian government.
Iran has admitted it has enriched uranium up to 20 percent which makes it much easier to turn that uranium into weapons-grade material. But it has refuted the accusation of pursuing nuclear weapons and has insisted it is peacefully proliferating.
The sanctions are timely because of the growing fear of Iran having nuclear weapons capability by the summer. While foreign intervention is frequently criticized, there seems to be less debate about economic suffocation.
“We appreciate the very crucial decision regarding the sanctions,” said Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman. “We are awaiting that the Iranians will give up their nuclear ambitions.”
Should Israel become threatened enough they may even be willing to make a preemptive strike on Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often commented that all options are on the table in reference to containing Iran.
Europe is also working with the United States by banning Iranian oil imports. That mandate will go into effect in July. The U.S. has also refused to buy any oil from Iran.
“There has been a steady increase in our sanctions activity and this is part of that escalation,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “There is no question that the impact of the isolation on Iran and the economic sanctions on Iran have caused added turmoil within Iran.”
The sanctions work in different ways. First, they directly cut off Iran’s ability to pay for its nuclear program because the government is heavily funded by exported oil.
Second, because the economic sanctions hurt the people of Iran which can lead to rising opposition against the program internally. The CIA reported that their unemployment rate was 15.3 percent in 2011.
The U.S. also has been encouraging African and other Middle Eastern countries to increase their oil production in order to make up the difference. Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that might be able to do that.
But there is also great doubt about the effectiveness of the sanctions. The U.S. has been administering these sanctions for years and Iran has still managed to make progress.
“We are pleased to see increasing sanctions but so far they have not been deterred from their course,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).
Iranian officials also claim these sanctions will have little effect. “Iran will make the sanctions ineffective as it did in the past, and it will continue selling oil,” said Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi.
“Many of these [U.S.] activities are in the sphere of psychological war and propaganda, and they cannot affect our work,” said, Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman.
Iran believes that they will simply start selling to other countries. However, in addition to the U.S. and European economic sanctions, countries and organizations like Canada, Australia, South Korea, Japan and the U.N. have all passed similar sanctions against Iran in the past.
“When they impose sanctions on our central bank even though we have no transactions with them, it shows […] they think they are able to put pressure on our people, create concerns and social discontent,” said Mehmanparast.
“When you apply the highest level of your power to impose sanctions on a nation and that nation continues on its path decisively, it proves you do not have enough power to halt it.”