WASHINGTON – Round four has begun. A Senate committee looked this week for effective ways to enforce sanctions placed on Iran earlier this month,while Iran continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions.
The previous three United Nations sanctions in as many years failed to deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear policy,funding terror and abusing the financial system,experts told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
But many in Washington believe that officials in Iran are anxious about these new sanctions,which include a list of Iranian institutions involved in illicit conduct. The sanction also prevent Iran from investing in uranium mining abroad and from using the international financial system to fund its proliferation,authorize the inspection of suspect cargo,restrict the purchase of conventional weapons and establish a U.N. panel of experts to monitor and enforce these sanctions.
“As significant as the new measures are,they are only as good as the implementation,” William Burns,undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department,told the committee.
Committee members said the opportunity to engage with Iran might not last much longer.
“How much time do we have,and how long will it take for these sanctions to have an impact? And what are the real red lines for the Iranian nuclear program?” Sen. John Kerry,D-Mass.,the committee chairman,asked. “Recent evidence suggests that neither sanctions nor engagement alone will convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program.”
Shireen Hunter,a former diplomat in Iran's Foreign Service and visiting professor at Georgetown University,said in an interview that sanctions alone will not produce any visible results or alter Iran's course in the immediate future because Iran has been preparing for them. A tough approach might have an impact later on.
But the sanctions could create more problems for Iran and its people,she said. Economic growth will be further stifled as the sanctions' financial regulations will prevent foreign investments. In the process,jobs could be affected more severely.
Stuart Levey,undersecretary for enforcement at the Treasury Department,said the regulations have shown signs of garnering support from the international community and the private sector. The administration has shared information with firms all over the world to make Iran's illegitimate activities public.
“That information demonstrates Iran engages in illicit nuclear and ballistic missile transactions,funds terrorist groups and in order to conduct those activities,engages in financial deception,” Levey said. “The end result is that the voluntary actions of the private sector amplify the effectiveness of government-imposed measures.”
Major financial institutions and companies across a wide range of sectors are already beginning to cut their ties with Iran out of fear of ruining their reputations. Iranian institutions involved in illicit transactions are able to hide their intentions through arrangements with Iranian companies not on the sanctions list. Foreign companies are often unaware that they are dealing with institutions that are involved in illegal activity.
The Iranian companies remove their names from transactions and disguise the ownership of their assets,Levey said.
The financial sanctions may affect China's substantial economic role because China could pick up some of the business that Western countries are beginning to refuse.
Burns said Iran could have weapons-grade nuclear fuel within a year.
Iran revealed this week that it has enriched uranium to 20 percent,crossing yet another nuclear threshold.
Burns said the country could have a nuclear bomb in three to five years. Iran has enough low-enriched uranium to develop two nuclear devices,once the uranium is further enriched.
Sen. Jim Risch,R-Ind.,raised concerns of Israeli action,stressing the urgency of enforcing the sanctions and producing tangible results.
“Israelis are not going to allow Iran to continue down this road. They are going to get to a point where they are going to do something about it,” Risch said. “We are at that point where we really need to do something.”
Iran is now placed in a delicate situation. Hunter said the regime's legitimacy is built on its foreign policy postures,and submission to the demands of the West will be a sure sign of weakness.
“They have to feel a lot more pain before they can take the risk of submitting. They have not quite reached that pain threshold yet,” Hunter said in an interview.