The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
A Tumultuous Game of Sanctions

The Obama Administration’s war on Iran has relied heavily on wide-ranging sanctions that score points in some places even as they lose ground elsewhere. So far, many of Iran’s biggest oil customers, like Japan and South Korea, have pledged to reduce their reliance on Persian oil, but others, like India and South Africa, have gone back and forth, alternately rebuffing and acquiescing to American pressure.

(South Africa, for instance, imported no Iranian oil in February but doubled its imports in March. Also in March, India said it would ignore American sanctions and only abide by UN ones, then sent an 80-member trade delegation to Tehran; but this week, under increased U.S. pressure and amid difficulties transporting and insuring Iranian oil, India said its top two oil companies would slow imports from Iran by “at least 15 percent.”)

The result? WSJ: “Iran’s oil output has reached its lowest level in 20 years, independent data showed Wednesday.” Reuters: “Iran said on Wednesday it was seeking an end to Western sanctions over its arms programme during talks with world powers.” Israel’s chief military officer: “I don’t think (Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) will want to go the extra mile [i.e. build a nuclear weapon]. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.” Iran’s Fars News: “A senior advisor to the Iranian Supreme Leader expressed the hope that the positive trend of talks between Tehran and the six world powers in Istanbul would continue in Baghdad, and stressed that removal of the sanctions against Iran should be the least result of the upcoming round of negotiations.”

After a scary early spring, when some Israeli officials gave strong hints that a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was close at hand, the rhetoric on all sides has grown more conciliatory.

Even though Iran has flip-flopped before, and even though some of Israel’s most important officials, like Prime Minister Netanyahu, believe diplomacy and sanctions have done nothing to stop Iran, Via Meadia sees promising signs in the tea leaves.

Today, anyway. We’ll see about tomorrow.

Published on May 2, 2012 12:00 pm
  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    OT but why are we dealing with these people:

    Activist Chen Guangcheng wants to leave China, says authorities threatened to beat wife to death

  • Mrs. Davis

    The only sign I see in the tea leaves is that the world is accommodating itself to the idea that Iran will develop a nuclear weapons capability because it prefers to accept the long term risk of a nuclear Iran to incurring the short term cost of eliminating that capability.

  • vanderleun

    “Via Meadia sees promising signs in the tea leaves.”

    Remind me not to take any stock tips from you.

  • Cunctator

    Let me be a prophet — Iran will not give up its nuclear program no matter how tough the sanctions appear to be.

    If I were an Iranian leaders, I would however make some sort of ambiguously-worded international agreement that promises something to get some of the sanctions lifted. Obama will trumpet it as a huge diplomatic success, hoping that it will help get him re-elected. Meanwhile, the program will continue to move forward, with Iran claiming that it is adhering to the terms of the agreement. (Given how desperate Obama is for an agreement, they might well be truthful.) Then, when Obama is re-elected, it will be business as usual in Tehran. Obama will decry the “fact” that the wars that he inherited from Bush distracted him from doing anything to stop Iran when there still was time, and there is no longer any effective military option available to him.