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The U.N.’s new sanctions on Iran? Not so tough

The U.N.’s new sanctions on Iran? Not so tough

The U.N. Security Council today passed resolution 1929 attaching further sanctions to Iran for pursuance of nuclear programs condemned by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse.

Sanctions have been the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s approach. Secretary Clinton proclaimed last summer we would coalesce the international community around "crippling sanctions." President Obama more recently reaffirmed that sanctions would be "significant." Yet the sanctions outlined in Resolution 1929 are so modest that even the White House sounded sheepish in its announcement of the resolution’s passage:

The resolution reaffirms the international community’s willingness to resolve international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations, while laying out the steps that Iran must take to restore international confidence in its nuclear program, thereby allowing for the suspension or termination of these sanctions.

The Resolution does show the handiwork of Stuart Levy’s superb team at the Department of Treasury: the Iranian Central Bank is mentioned, companies linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are cited, and the lead scientist in the Iranian nuclear program is listed by name. But even though the number of entities ostensibly affected is twice that previously listed in U.N. resolutions, Tehran should be celebrating all it achieved.

Russia’s vote was bought by exempting Russian firms from the restrictions. President Putin has announced the Bushehr reactor will come on line with Russia’s continued assistance this summer. Russian Parliamentarian Mikhail Margelov, Head of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee even said the deal will permit deployment of S-300 missile systems to Iran, which the Untied States has worked for years to prevent. All this in addition to canceling NATO missile defense deployments and going silent on the strangulation of freedoms within Russia.

Turkey and Brazil voted against the resolution, Lebanon abstained. A treaty ally of the United States whose territory borders on Iran, and which President Obama visited to showcase his new approach to the so-called muslim world could not be persuaded by the Obama Administration to cast its vote with us.

And the Administration seems to have no strategy for what to do next. Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

When pressed to accede to his country being ruled by Macedonia, the Greek statesman Demosthenes refused, saying "I do not purchase regret at such a price." It could be that the Security Council Resolution will do the trick and Tehran will reconsider its current course. But I doubt it. It seems instead that we have purchased regret at the price of re-establishing Russian cooperation with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, demonstrating our inability to deliver both a NATO ally and an increasingly important rising power, and revealing that we have no cards to play except enfeebled sanctions.