Increase sanctions on Iran

World must do more do deter the nation’s nuclear ambitions

April 12, 2010|By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Forty-seven heads of state are now in Washington attending a Nuclear Security Summit, at President Barack Obama's invitation, "to enhance international cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism."

While Iran's nuclear weapons program and support of terrorist groups — it arms, funds and trains Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and, according to recent reports, the Taliban — are not on the agenda, Iran undoubtedly will be on the minds of summit participants and observers. As President Obama said last month, "it is one of our highest priorities to make sure that Iran doesn't possess a nuclear weapon."

Many world leaders, including those attending the summit, have said the right things about Iran but have not yet acted with crippling sanctions. They must enforce existing laws and use strong sanctions to encourage Iranian leaders to stop their nuclear program — or for their citizens to change the regime.

Here are some of the actions the United States and its international partners should take in order to achieve this critical objective through peaceful means:

•Prevent Iranian gas deals. Iran holds 16 percent of the world's natural gas reserves and has capitalized on this resource by extending pipelines to neighboring countries and moving away from using gasoline for automobiles. Diplomatic pressure targeting companies that invest in Iran's natural gas industry could help deal a fatal blow to Iran's energy sector. This should include South and Central Asian nations' recent gas deals with Iran. Pakistan, for example, signed a $7.5 billion deal with Iran in 2009 for a gas pipeline, which if built could also include an extension to China. Pakistan must be pressed to abandon this deal.

•Sustain American pressure on foreign banks and oil companies. Such efforts have led major firms such as Germany's Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, England's HSBC, Switzerland's Credit Suisse and Holland's Royal Dutch Shell to halt or limit business with Iran. In June 2008, all of the European Union's 27 member states agreed to freeze any assets held in their jurisdictions by Bank Melli, Iran's largest state-owned bank. Much more needs to be done.

•Deny shipping insurance. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1803 calls on all states to "exercise vigilance" regarding companies that do business with Iran in order to avoid financing Iran's proliferation activities. The resolution specifically cautions states to be wary of granting insurance, as well as export credits and loan guarantees, to businesses trading with Iran. Insurance companies should increase the cost of doing business with Iran by reassessing their rates to factor in Iran's questionable internal stability. Transit insurance should also be raised for ships and merchandise passing through Iran.

•Isolate Iran diplomatically. Countries should recall their ambassadors from Iran or even cancel diplomatic relations. Officials who meet with Iranian leaders should insist on discussing Iran's nuclear program and human rights violations. International diplomats' trips to Iran should include meetings with Iranian dissidents. Additionally, Iranian leaders should be tried for incitement to genocide under the Geneva Conventions.

•Blockade Iran. A naval blockade would greatly affect Iran's economy because of the country's strong dependence on exports and imports. Blockading Iranian ships could be accomplished by blacklisting Iranian merchant ships to prevent them from traveling to foreign ports, by blacklisting non-Iranian merchant ships originating from Iranian ports, or by physically blockading Iranian ships through the narrow Straits of Hormuz used by Iran's maritime trade.

•Divest from Iranian business. U.S. states and investors are incorporating "terror-free" investing principles to deprive the Tehran regime of capital. Seventeen states have approved divestment legislation, and bills are pending in three others. At the same time, companies, including KPMG, Ingersoll Rand and Caterpillar, have decided to stop doing business with Iran. More companies around the globe must follow suit.

Ultimately, Iran must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons. If this deterrence can be accomplished through peaceful means such as those outlined above, so much the better.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, an Annapolis resident, is founder and president of Washington-based The Israel Project, which tracks and advocates for tough economic sanctions on Iran. Her e-mail is jenniferm@theisraelproject.org.

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