Tag Archives: sanctions

The Iranian Nuclear Deal

The United States and Iran reached agreement placing limits on Iran’s nuclear regime in exchange for ending Western sanctions on Iranian exports.  In a press conference announcing the agreement, President Obama said the agreement would guarantee Iran could not produce nuclear weapons. In exchange for ending the sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations Security Council cost Iran an estimated $150 billion per year in lost oil export revenue and resulted in the seizure of billions in Iranian assets held in Western banks. The deal ends those sanctions but keeps the weapons embargo on Iran in place for an additional five years. The deal permits weapons inspectors to access “any site they deem suspicious,” an apparent rejection of Iran’s position that military sites be excluded from inspections.

The deal still faces opposition from a Republican-controlled Congress, which had previously passed legislation requiring Congressional approval of any deal reached on Iran’s nuclear program. But as the New York Times reported, President Obama is likely to get the deal implemented despite Republican opposition.

Under the terms of legislation passed in May, Congress has 60 days to scrutinize the accord between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, and then to vote to accept or reject it — or to do nothing. The president can veto any resolution of disapproval. Congress needs a two-thirds majority in each house to override the veto, so to put the deal into force, Mr. Obama only needs one-third of one of the houses to stand with him.

That said, the Israeli government was also critical of the deal, arguing that the new agreement does nothing to prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and only delays its progress for a short period of time.

What do you think? Does the new deal represent a significant diplomatic achievement for the Obama administration? Will it be effective in preventing Iranian efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon? Why?

Addressing the Situation in Ukraine

The Daily Beast yesterday reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin has cut off high level diplomatic talks with the United States in response to the US’s efforts to isolate Russia over the Ukrainian situation. The United States has repeatedly asserted that it will seek to impose “higher costs” on Russia in response to Russia’s ongoing intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk on Friday accused Russia of “wanting to start World War III by occupying Ukraine militarily and politically.”

But US options in addressing Russian intervention in Ukraine appear limited. While Secretary of State John Kerry warned that “more sanctions” will likely be announced early next week, more aggressive responses appear to be off the table, and President Barack Obama has made it clear that his “red line” would be a Russian invasion of a NATO member state.

In the following video, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki outlines the US strategy in dealing with the situation in Ukraine.

What do you think Psaki means when she says that there is “no military solution” to the situation in Ukraine, but that the US strategy is “working”? What would a successful strategy in Ukraine look like? Do you think American sanctions will be effective in resolving the situation in Crimea and Ukraine? Why?

The Intersection of Domestic Politics and Foreign Affairs

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses reporters in Israel.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses reporters in Israel.

Israel was in the news this week, as both Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met with key Israeli leaders to discuss, among other things, the Iranian nuclear program.

During his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Mitt Romney was unreserved in his position, asserting that ensuring the security of Israel and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability “must be our highest national security priority.” Romney’s senior national security aid, Dan Senor, clarified Romeny’s statement, concluding that, “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.”

With his statements, Romney was trying to draw a sharp contrast between his position and the position of the Obama administration. Just two days after Romney’s meeting with Netanyahu, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was expressing a more reserved tone. In his meeting yesterday with Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he urged Israel to show restraint in its dealings with Iran.

The New York Times reported that there are growing concerns in the Obama administration that Israel may be preparing for a unilateral military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities as early as this fall. Secretary Panetta’s visit was just the most recent in a series of flurry of trips to Israel by high ranking administration officials in recent weeks . Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon each recently visited Israel as well.

These visits occurred amid increasing rhetorical attacks by the Israeli government. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that discussion of sanctions against Iran were useless. Netanyahu concluded that, “Right now, the Iranian government believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”

The Israeli calculation is highly influenced by the timing of the US presidential elections. Most observers believe that if an Israeli strike were to occur, it would likely be in September or early October. As the New York Times observed, “Mr. Netanyahu feels that he will have less leverage if President Obama is re-elected, and that if Mr. Romney were to win, the new president would be unlikely to want to take on a big military action early in his term.”
Perhaps the largest problem facing the international community the lack of viable options. Ongoing negotiations with Iran have failed to produce the desired outcome. Sanctions have not been historically effective in promoting policy changes, as the longstanding US embargos against Cuba and North Korea attest. And an Israeli strike against Iran would likely produce a strong response from the Iranian government, perhaps including Iranian missile strikes against Tel Aviv. In such a scenario, the United States could well be pulled into another war in the Middle East.

What do you think? How should the United States deal with Israel and Iran? Can sanctions be effective? And how do the domestic politics of the United States affect the ongoing developments in the Middle East?

The Next Korean War

The South Korean corvette Cheonan, sank in March 2010.

The South Korean corvette Cheonan

The South Korean government issued its final findings from its analysis of the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel last March. The report concludes that the South Korean ship was sunk by a torpedo launched by a North Korean submarine. The conclusion which provoked an immediate and sharp response from the North Korean government, which dismissed the findings as a “conspiratorial farce” and promised “all-out war” and a “nuclear fire shower” if punitive actions are taken against the Pyongyang regime.

The report (and equally importantly North Korea’s reaction to the report) raise some important questions. As Julian Borger argues, South Korea is now caught in a diplomatic (and political) black hole. There is clearly political pressure from within South Korea to respond to the sinking, which claimed the lives of some 46 South Korean sailors. But what sort of response is likely to be productive. The South Korean president is scheduled to address the United Nations Security council this week, and there will likely be discussion of sanctions. But the North Korean regime has been subject to UN sanctions for several years as a result of its ongoing nuclear program. It seems unlikely that further sanctions will fundamentally alter the regime’s policies, particularly if the Chinese government, which has historically been suspicious of sanctions against North Korea, remains hesitant to actively support them. In short, a political/diplomatic response is unlikely to be effective, while a military response is undesirable.

Further, as Ruediger Frank points out in his blog, 38 North, some of the fundamental questions surrounding the attack have not been asked. Most importantly, Frank argues,

Sinking a corvette is very different from shooting a tourist or firing a few pistol shots across the 38th parallel. It is even unlike killing an enemy with an axe in the neutral zone around Panmunjom. It is hard not to regard the deliberate sinking of a warship and the killing of 46 crewmen as an act of war. And it is hard to expect the other side not to share this view.

So who made this fatal and risky decision? Those in the West who insist on calling Kim Jong Il the Dear Leader (although this title has not been in use in North Korea for one and a half decades), who believe that he is the personification of evil and the only person with power in his country, will argue that only he could have given the order. But this assumption collides with a truism that my students learn in their first semester: the top priority of the DPRK leadership is regime survival. An open war against the South would be suicidal.”

Frank concludes that the attack may not have been launched by the North Korean government, but rather reflects the deteriorating chain of command within North Korea itself. Such a situation could be far scarier for the stability of the Korean peninsula.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

A suicide bomb attack in Iran killed several senior commanders of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard and at least twenty tribal leaders in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. The bombing was the first major terrorist attack in Iran in more than twenty years, and represents a major public relations blow for the Iranian government. A group known as Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Iranian government has also attempted to place blame on the British government for the attack, claiming that Britain has an “overt and hidden hand in terrorist attack against Iran.” Juddallah is a Pakistan-based radical Sunni group campaigning for independence for ethnic Baluchis in Iran.

In an unrelated development, the Russian government indicated it would be willing to impose sanctions on Iran if the Iranian government fails to implement promises it made to the international community regarding its nuclear program. This represents a significant hardening of the Russian position on Iran, which it had previously dismissed as “unproductive.”

In news from outside Iran in the last week:

1. The United Nations-backed panel investigating elections in Afghanistan appears poised to overturn August election results. The panel is recommending that a number of suspicious ballots be thrown out, thus necessitating a runoff election between incumbent president Hamid Karzai and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. The United States is attempting to resolve the growing political crisis, which threatens to complicate President Barack Obama’s decision on whether or not to expand the U.S. troop presence in the country.

2. Fights between rival drug gangs rocked Rio de Janeiro over the weekend, only one week after the city was named host of the 2016 summer Olympics. At least fourteen people were killed in the violence, and a police helicopter was shot down as members of the Comando Vermelho, Rio’s largest gang, and its rival, Amigos dos Amigos, fought in the favelas that surround the city. The state governor, Sergio Cabral, informed the International Olympic Committee of the events, noting, “We told the OIC this is not a simple matter, and they know this, and we want to arrive in 201 with Rio in peace before, during, and after the games.”

3. The Pakistani government launched a new offensive against Taliban strongholds in the South Waziristan region. The new offensive comes after two weeks in which the Taliban had engaged in a series of attacks against the Pakistani government and military. The Pakistani government believes that the Taliban may have as many as 10,000 militant fighters assembled in the region, which is also believed to be the hiding location for Osama bin Laden.

4. In a dramatic regional contrast, citizens in Botswana are expected to hand the government if Ian Khama a victory in Friday’s elections, while the government of neighboring Zimbabwe is struggling to address the continuing political instability there. Botswana is widely viewed as a success story in Southern Africa, due in part to its political stability and part to its vast diamond wealth.  But as global diamond prices fall, the economy of Botswana may begin to struggle. The government faces a severe budget shortfall, due primarily to a dramatic decline in diamond prices, necessitating a $1.5 billion loan from the African Development Bank.

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai threatened to “disengage” from working with President Robert Mugabe. The two have been part of a power sharing arrangement since Febraury, but Tsvangarai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has been marginalized from real political power.

5. The United States budget deficit has reached a record level of $1.4 trillion for the last fiscal year, as the government expanded spending significantly in order to address the global economic downturn. The deficit was approximately 10 percent of gross domestic product, but was $162 billion less than the administration forecast in August. Tax revenue fell by more than 16 percent as a result of the economic downturn, but spending increased by more than 18 percent.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The G20 meeting in Pittsburg this week resulted in agreement on several important principles, with the group agreeing in principle to establish guidelines for bankers’ pay, developing a timetable for reforming financial regulations, and establishing a new framework for economic growth. The G20 also agreed to transfer five percent of the shares in the International Monetary Fund and three percent of the shares in the World Bank to emerging countries. The organizations have long been criticized for voting structures which over-represent the developed world at the expense of the developing world.

In other news from the previous week:

1. There were several important developments in Iran this week. On Sunday, Iran test fired a short-range missile as part of ongoing war games in the country. The missile, a Shahab-3, has range sufficient to reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf. The launch comes just days after the United States announced it had discovered Iran possessed a second, secret uranium enrichment facility. France and the United Kingdom joined the United States in condemning Iran for misleading the international community. The discovery and announcement put pressure on Tehran, which maintains that the facility is used for peaceful purposes. The most recent announcement produced new signals from Russia, which had historically opposed sanctions against Iran. But after being briefed on the new facilities by the Obama administration, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev indicated that the Russian government may be willing to consider sanctions as a way of addressing the Iranian nuclear situation.

2. Germany is headed to the polls today, with most analysts calling the election too close to call and many speculating about what kind of coalition will take control of the world’s fourth largest economy. Although Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats have been leading throughout the campaign, her support has been slipping over the past week. With low turnout forecast, observers believe that the election could still be close. Further, a quirk in the German voting system could result in Merkel’s CDU winning a plurality of seats in the Bundestag despite winning a smaller percentage of the popular vote than her rivals. Her rival, the Social Democrats, have lagged in the polls throughout the campaign but managed a late-campaign surge. No matter what the margins, negotiations around a forming a new coalition in Germany will likely be the central focus of German politics in coming days.

3. Two car bombings believed to the work of the Taliban in Pakistan killed 27 people on Saturday. The attacks targeted Pakistan’s military and police forces, coming just days after the country’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, appealed to the G20 for assistance in fighting terrorism in Pakistan. The attacks demonstrate the resilience of the Taliban in Pakistan, which has been engaged in a protracted war with the national military. Last month, the Pakistani military killed Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban’s main leader in Pakistan, and earlier this year, the military killed more than 3,000 Taliban militants in operations in the Swat valley region. Despite these losses, however, the Taliban remains a central threat to the stability of the Pakistani regime. 

4. The government of Guinea is moving forward with its efforts to overturn some of the contracts signed with foreign companies under the military dictatorship of Lansana Conté, whose 24 year-rule ended with his death in December. The new government has already forced Rio Tinto to return a portion of its iron ore concessions and convinced the South African gold company, AngloGold Ashanti, to establish a $10 million fund to pay for environmental damages caused by their operations in the country. On Tuesday, the government ordered the Russian aluminum company Rusal to quit the country, claiming that it owed more than$750 million in taxes, royalties, and other duties owed since 2002. With a GDP per capita of $442, Guinea remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

5. Deposed President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras last week, sneaking into the country and hiding in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Honduran security forces used water cannons and tear gas to dispurse crowds which had gathered outside the embassy in support of Zelaya. The Brazilian government has called on the international community to do more to support Zelaya’s return. Most of the international community has refused to recognize the new government and international assistance from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has been suspended. Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Brazlian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, “The international community demands that Mr Zelaya return immediately to the presidency of his country and must be alert to ensure the inviolability of Brazil’s diplomatic mission in the capital of Honduras.”

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

According to the G8, it looks like we may be starting to see signs that the global economic crisis is beginning to ease. The final communiqué of the G8 summit on Saturday expressed the sentiment that the worst of the crisis may now be over, and that it may be time to begin addressing the challenges of inflation rather than stagnation. According to the communiqué,

There are signs of stabilisation in our economies, including a recovery of stock markets, a decline in interest rate spreads, improved business and consumer confidence, but the situation remains uncertain and significant risks remain to economic and financial stability.

Despite the relatively upbeat assessment, hopes for a quick recovery in the Eurozone (glossary) continue to be thwarted by sharp declines in industrial production and high unemployment.

In other news from the previous week,

1. Incumbent president Majmoud Ahmadi-Nejad decisively won Saturday’s presidential elections in Iran, defeating the moderate reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi. Although Moussavi alleges Ahmadi-Nejad’s victory was the result of unfair electoral practices and intimidation and has demanded a new poll, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared the results final, suggesting any challenge would be unsuccessful. Turnout in the election was high—surpassing 85 percent. Protests broke out across Tehran after the election, and the international community is watching developments in Iran with great concern. The elections carried big implications not just for domestic Iranian society, but also for U.S. foreign policy.

2. The United Nations tightened sanctions on North Korea on Friday. After several weeks of increasing tensions in which the government of North Korea had expanded nuclear warhead and missile tests, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution expanding sanctions beyond the narrow focus on weapons and weapons technology (which has long been in place) to now include suspending foreign aid, loans, and export credits outside of humanitarian aid. The passage of sanctions by the Security Council signals a shift in Russian and Chinese policy. The two countries had long opposed intensifying sanctions on North Korea, fearing the collapse of the unstable regime.

3. In a dramatic shift in Russian foreign policy last week, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the country would drop its bid to join the World Trade Organization and would instead seek to develop a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Russia has been negotiating for WTO membership for 16 years, but has been blocked largely as a result of U.S. opposition. Two schools of thought to explain the shift in policy have emerged. According to the first, this represents Russia’s frustration with the process and is merely a ploy to speed up accession talks. According to the second, Russia is more interested in expanding its influence in its former sphere of influence, and the new customs union would help to achieve that goal. Whatever the truth, the move clearly surprised most observers and confounded analysts.

4. The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell reached a settlement with the family Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists executed by the Nigerian government in 1995. According to the suit, Shell had requested the Nigerian government to intervene—going so far as to finance and assist in operations against groups in the Niger River delta region. Without conceding any involvement in their deaths, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million in damages to settle the claim. The case was one of the first to be brought before U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789, which gives non-U.S. citizens the right to sue in U.S. courts for human rights violations committed abroad. Shell had unsuccessfully sought to have the case dismissed.

5. The crisis in Peru continued last week, as protestors continue to confront police in the capital Lima. A national strike had been called by indigenous groups and labor unions to protest changes in land rights laws. An estimated 10,000 people turned out on Thursday before police dispersed the crowds. The government of Peru is now moving to suspend the law which led to the protests.