Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Trade sanctions aren't reducing Tehran's resolve

The US keeps tightening its sanctions against Iran. But these measures are not having their intended effect.

Ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the US has been trying to control Iranian government policies by squeezing the country's economy. Under each president since - Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and now Barack Obama - sanctions have been widened and deepened. The EU, the UN and many other countries, urged on by Washington, have also put limits on their Iran trade.

But Iran is not the only victim. Sanctions reduce trade, and trade is a two-way street: other countries, starting with the UAE, suffer serious collateral damage. Bilateral trade shrank by 54 per cent between 2011 and 2012, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry says.

The latest turn of the screw came on Monday, when the US closed a loophole that had allowed Iran to export oil and accept payment in gold. Now bullion dealers trading with Iran risk being frozen out of the much more important US market.

Other new measures will further suppress Iran's maritime trade. Medicines and food are exempted, but major shipping firms will simply stop bothering with Iran; two big Chinese lines have already said they will do just that. This may open new opportunities for small traders from Dubai, but financing restrictions make any commercial ties a challenge.

Despite talk about "smart sanctions" the US has been unfortunately heavy-handed, imposing policies which in practice hurt many of Iran's 75 million people without weakening the government's resolve to push ahead with its nuclear programme. If Washington planners hope to generate a popular revolt, they badly misunderstand the Iranian public.

The timing of these new sanctions is particularly unfortunate; if Iran's president-elect Hassan Rouhani has any inclination towards more openness to the rest of the world, yet more sanctions may well stifle it.

After so many years, it must be said that the current sanctions have not accomplished their aims. The US has named three policies sanctions are supposed to discourage: Iran's support for terrorism, its undermining of Middle East peace and its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

But today Iran gives important support to Bashar Al Assad, Hizbollah and Hamas, and appears to be drawing steadily closer to its goal of having nuclear bombs.

The problem is that sanctions, though too blunt a tool, are the world's only non-military lever against Tehran's intransigence. The terms and details of existing and future controls on Iran's commerce demand careful attention in planning and implementation.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 An Egyptian Orthodox Christian priest give communion during the Palm Sunday service inCairo, Egypt. Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP

Region in focus - April 18, 2014

The best images of the last seven days from around the Gulf and across the Middle East.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

Video: Local reactions to a national fishing ban

A federal fishing ban has been imposed by the UAE federal government, but local authorities are taking diiferent approaches to implementing the ban. Two fishermen tell two very different sides of the story. Produced by Paul O'Driscoll

 Southampton owner Katharina Liebherr is pictured before the Premier League match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, southern England, on March 1, 2014. Glyn Kirk / AFP

New Southampton owner leading club’s resurgence from the shadows

Katharina Liebherr keeping with family tradition and letting others dominate the spotlight

 The new Bentley GT Speed convertible on display at a press event of the New York International Auto Show. Jason Szenes / EPA

In pictures: Hot cars at New York International Auto Show

With more than 1 million visitors annually, the New York International Auto Show is one of the most important shows for the US car industry. Here are some of the vehicles to be shown in this year’s edition.

 The cast of Fast & Furious 7, including Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, centre, on set at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Fast & Furious 7 filming in full swing at Emirates Palace

Filming for Fast & Furious 7 has started and we have the first photos of the cast and crew on set at Emirates Palace hotel this morning. Visitors staying at Emirates Palace say they have been kept away from certain areas in the grounds.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National