Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Is Fighting Sanctions So Hard?

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released a new report entitled "Iran sanctions: Impact in Furthering U.S. Objectives Is Unclear and Should Be Reviewed." The report was requested by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The GAO was asked to review (1) U.S. sanctions targeting Iran and their implementation, (2) reported sanction impacts, and (3) factors limiting sanctions.

According to the report:
"U.S. officials report that U.S. sanctions have slowed foreign investment in Iran’s petroleum sector, denied parties involved in Iran’s proliferation and terrorism activities access to the U.S. financial system, and provided a clear statement of U.S. concerns to the rest of the world. However, other evidence raises questions about the extent of reported impacts. Since 2003, the Iranian government has signed contracts reported at about $20 billion with foreign firms to develop its energy resources. Further, sanctioned Iranian banks may fund their activities in currencies other than the dollar. Moreover, while Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, according to the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, it continues to enrich uranium, acquire advanced weapons technology, and support terrorism. Finally, U.S. agencies do not systematically collect or analyze data demonstrating the overall impact and results of their sanctioning and enforcement actions.

"Iran’s global trade ties and leading role in energy production make it difficult for the United States to isolate Iran and pressure it to reduce proliferation and support for terrorism."

The new report concludes:

"We recommend that the Congress consider requiring the National Security Council (NSC), in collaboration with the Departments of State, the Treasury, Energy, and Commerce; the intelligence community; and U.S. enforcement agencies to (1) collect, analyze, and improve data on Iran sanctions and conduct a baseline assessment of the impact and use of the sanctions; (2) develop a framework for assessing the ongoing impact of U.S. sanctions, taking into consideration the contribution of multilateral sanctions; and (3) report periodically to the Congress on the sanctions’ impact."

(Click here to read highlights of the report.)

President Bush referred to the efficacy of sanctions in 2004 when he explained why the U.S. had taken a backseat and left negotiations on Iran's nuclear program to Britain, France and Germany: "We're relying upon others, because we've sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran. In other words, we don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now, and we expect them to listen to those voices, and we're a part of the universal acclaim."

So, why then, is fighting sanctions such hard work?

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