Letter to Congress: oppose petroleum sanctions on Iran

 In Iran

Throughout the year, we have worked to oppose broad, unilateral sanctions on Iran. I have made the case many times on this blog that these sanctions will not only fail to elicit positive changes in the Iranian regime’s behavior, they will likely backfire and undermine diplomacy with Iran, our only real hope for relieving tensions between our countries.

Powerful lobby groups and hawkish politicians have been drumming up support for the bill and have put it on the suspension calendar– a quick way to pass “non-controversial” legislation–for next week. This is absolutely the wrong time to make this move as delicate negotiations are taking place.  We need as many members of Congress as possible to take a stand against this wrong-headed approach.  Below is a letter Peace Action West sent to members of Congress urging them to vote no on the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act:

On behalf of Peace Action West’s 50,000 supporters, I am writing to urge you to vote against the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. Not only are the sanctions embodied in the bill unlikely to inhibit Iran’s nuclear program, they could easily backfire and undermine delicate negotiations.

As Jim Walsh, Thomas Pickering and William Luers write in Arms Control Today:

“Although sanctions can be an effective policy instrument, they are only that: an instrument or tactic for achieving a goal. Given their track record, new sanctions are hardly the tactic one would rush to as a promising choice. More importantly, by narrowly focusing on a tactic rather than the strategic objective, there is the risk that policymakers will produce the very thing they seek to prevent: an Iran with nuclear weapons.”

Read their full piece, “Iran and the Problem of Tactical Myopia,” here: http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_12/WalshPickeringLuers

While there has been frustration moving forward with the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, it is essential that the international community and the Iranian government stay at the negotiating table. As Walsh, Pickering and Luers note, sanctions are not in and of themselves a strategy to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and improve relations. The other option–military action–would be disastrous, and would most likely rally the Iranian people around an unpopular regime and encourage Iran to accelerate nuclear development.

Passing broad unilateral sanctions at this sensitive time would be counterproductive and threatens to adversely affect the Obama administration’s Iran strategy. While testifying to the Senate Banking Committee, Undersecretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey stated that unilateral sanctions could undermine efforts to enact smart, targeted sanctions that impact people responsible for Iranian policy, saying,  “not only do we want to have the impact on the economy, we want to make sure that [the sanction] is going to affect the decision making in Iran and not target the wrong people in Iran and, similarly, to make sure that we maximize the chance of getting international support for these things.”

Rep. Berman, lead sponsor of the bill in the House, has himself noted that unilateral sanctions are the least desirable choice for responding to Iran; diplomacy is the preferred approach, followed by multilateral sanctions. Two months is not adequate time to determine the efficacy of diplomatic efforts and move on to “the fourth best option”–sanctions that would be detrimental to the broad population in Iran and would not elicit positive changes in the regime’s behavior. Despite bluster from the Iranian regime, they do not have the technical capacity to pose an imminent threat with their nuclear program. With our own intelligence agencies telling us that Iran would not have enough fuel for a nuclear bomb until at least 2013, there is ample time to pursue tough-minded, pragmatic negotiations.

Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation highlights a key problem with this approach: “From my perspective, the sanctions path on trying to influence Iran’s behavior has more to do with providing a focus for American frustration and emotion than achieving a successful course correction with Iran.” Congress must remain clear-headed about what policy options are most likely to bring about our desired results: a stable Iran without a nuclear weapon, and improved relations between our two countries. Passage of H.R. 2194 would set us on a dangerous path and could undermine the most promising approach to reaching these goals.  We strongly urge you to vote against the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act.

Call your representative at 1-800-427-8619 and urge him or her to vote against the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act.

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