In adopting a second sanctions resolution on Saturday, the United Nations Security Council has given a push to the Anglo-American project of gradually escalating the crisis over Iran's civil nuclear programme till open confrontation and the recourse to military means become a fait accompli. As in December 2006, Washington's tactic of asking for drastic punitive measures and then allowing other members of the UNSC to water those measures down to something more palatable worked like a charm. The Bush administration began the exercise of drafting UNSC Resolution 1747 by pushing for a blanket travel ban on Iranian officials and an embargo on all export credits and arms sales. What it got in the end may be much less than that, but it is still very substantial. Iran has been banned from exporting arms, a prohibition that is important not so much because the Islamic Republic is a major vendor of weapons even to Hamas or Hizbollah but because it gives the U.S. an excuse to intimidate or interdict all Iranian merchant shipping under the guise of "enforcement." Similarly, the targeting of Bank Sepah is a major new provocation that is intended to sow panic in the bazari establishment and Iranian middle class.
If Washington is hoping to use sanctions in order to exacerbate divisions within the Iranian establishment, it is barking up the wrong tree. Iran's polity is fractious and contested but all factions are likely to close ranks around the government on the question of the right to pursue a civilian uranium enrichment programme. The Iranian side has indicated a willingness to be flexible on the question of a temporary suspension of its enrichment programme. But it rightly insists that suspension cannot be made a precondition for the resumption of dialogue, least of all a suspension that the U.S. says must be maintained for the lifetime of the dialogue. By stretching the talks process out indefinitely, Washington hopes to turn Iran's "temporary" suspension into something more or less permanent. In any event, the Bush administration's real goal in Iran is not even suspension of enrichment but the overthrow of the Islamic Republic through the gradual strangulation of its economy. Failing that is the option of air strikes and war. Regrettably, countries like Russia, China, France and Germany which know where things are headed, have once again seen it fit to appease this drive to conflict. The irony is that each believes it is moderating Washington's agenda whereas it is actually Washington that is getting its script enacted.
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