New Security Council Sanctions on Iran Proposed

May 26, 2010

Update from AIJAC

May 26, 2010
Number 05/10 #06

Today’s Update analyses the proposed upgraded Security Council sanctions on Iran, addressing the latter’s illegal nuclear program. We open with an analysis of the proposed sanctions by three writers from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The analysis discusses the sanctions’ strengths and weaknesses, including a ‘naming and shaming’ committee to identify those countries and businesses that attempt to bypass the sanctions – a strength. But countries would have to grant permission to UN officials before the officials could inspect Iran-bound ships, for ships bearing that country’s flag – a weakness, especially if it’s a North Korean ship taking weapons and nuclear-related equipment to Iran. The analysis provides an informative introduction to this latest round of proposed sanctions, and to read it, CLICK HERE.

The second article, from the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), also lists some of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed resolutions – though in less detail than the Washington Institute – and then discusses Israeli responses. These responses can be best summarised as ‘it’s good there are stronger sanctions, but they’re not strong enough.’ It ends with a reminder of just how important it is that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, by listing some of the deadly ramifications it would have for the Middle East. To read BICOM’s excellent take on the subject, CLICK HERE.

We finish with an opinion piece by Bar Ilan University academic Eytan Gilboa on Ynet. Gilboa writes about the deal Turkey, Brazil and Iran proposed on May 17, that provides for Iran to give these countries enriched uranium in exchange for fuel rods manufactured outside of Iran. The deal is similar to that offered Iran some time ago, which Iran rejected. As Gilboa points out, that Iran came up with this deal just one day before the draft sanctions were tabled simply shows Iran was trying to torpedo the sanctions plan. Gilboa congratulates the US and other Security Council countries for seeing through the ploy. Iran’s ploy also shows that real pressure works against it, which should give some encouragement to those countries still pursuing a successful diplomatic resolution to the Iranian issue. To read Gilboa’s article, CLICK HERE.

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Analyzing the New UN Sanctions Proposal on Iran

By Patrick Clawson, Michael Singh, and Jeffrey White

Policy Watch #1659
May 20, 2010

The May 18 draft resolution proposing additional sanctions to curb Iran’s nuclear program is backed by all five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Although this unanimity is the proposal’s principal strength, it comes at the cost of making the draft weaker in some sections than ideas discussed previously by the Obama administration. The following is an analysis of some of the resolution’s key elements. 

Enforcement: Overcoming Practical Obstacles 

One of the draft’s most encouraging aspects is its seven-paragraph section on sanctions enforcement. The resolution calls for the Iran Sanctions Committee to “intensify its efforts…including through a work program covering compliance, investigations, outreach, dialogue, assistance and cooperation.” It also calls for the secretary-general to appoint a panel of up to eight experts to “gather, examine and analyze information from States, relevant United Nations bodies and other interested parties” and to “make recommendations on actions the Council, or the [Sanctions] Committee or [individual member] State, may consider to improve implementation of the relevant measures.” 

As Michael Jacobson has written in previous analysis for The Washington Institute, such expert panels have been important in strengthening sanctions on Sudan and Ethiopia. The “naming and shaming” power of a panel’s reports could influence firms and individuals considering whether to run the risk of doing business with Iran. An expert panel could also help the Sanctions Committee and UN member states by recommending ways to make the sanctions more effective. Jacobson described two such methods in PolicyWatch #1639, Closing Loopholes: Another Vital Aspect of Sanctions on Iran: (1) conducting onsite verifications at transit hubs to ensure that dual-use goods have reached their intended destination and were not re-exported to Iran; this effort would build on the work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which currently operates sixty-three offices in forty-four countries; and (2) creating a global database of “bad actors” (preferably housed at the Brussels-based World Customs Organization) for law enforcement authorities in countries that may lack the resources to detect the front companies often used to evade sanctions. 

The UN draft also restates the Sanctions Committee’s authority to target additional individuals and entities, including those “who have assisted designated persons or entities in evading sanctions of, or in violating the provisions of, these resolutions.” With this authority, the Sanctions Committee could — given the requisite political will — move much more quickly to address the technical problem of new front companies. However, it does not seem that this authority for additional designations has to date been exercised by the Sanctions Committee. The Committee has not been active and has lacked resources. Hopefully this will change, as called for by other paragraphs in the draft resolution. But still the key will be information provided by those most concerned, especially the United States and European Union. 

In addition, the draft contains a six-paragraph section on “illegal shipments,” authorizing states to inspect ships and planes bound for Iran “if there is information that provides reasonable grounds to believe the vessel is carrying” prohibited items. It also bars the provision of fuel and supplies (“bunkering services”) to such ships. This section seems patterned on Security Council Resolution 1874 regarding North Korean arms exports — a measure that has reportedly limited the regime’s shipments, including one incident in which a vessel apparently turned back to North Korea rather than risk inspection. 

That said, implementing the Iranian resolution’s inspection provision would raise some practical constraints. The draft requires “the consent of the flag State,” that is, the government whose flag is flown on the vessel. This may be a problem. For instance, it seems unlikely that North Korea, a source for some of Iran’s arms and missile imports (and perhaps nuclear technology), would grant permission to search ships flying its flag. 

Another issue is that the inspection process requires the cooperation of a country into whose port the suspect ship can be brought. It is difficult to conduct such inspections on the high seas, and if illicit material is found, offloading and disposing of it may not be practical without access to a nearby port. Therefore, the inspection provision would work best if naval forces had permission to bring suspect ships into ports in the Arabian Peninsula or Indian Ocean littoral states. Obtaining such permission would no doubt be difficult. 

From Vigilance to Prohibition 

Several passages of the draft resolution call on member states to “exercise vigilance” toward certain activities related to Iran, particularly transactions involving Iranian banks or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), business dealings between a given state’s nationals and Iranian entities, and any provision of arms and related materiel or maintenance to Iran. Each of these provisions includes a tradeoff, however. Unlike the prohibitions contained elsewhere in the resolution, they are nonbinding, but they are also more ambitious in scope than these prohibitions. In general, the “vigilance” provisions represent compromises over activities that some of the P-5+1 states (the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany) would like to see prohibited but others would not. 

More specifically, the provisions serve two purposes. First, they provide a basis for individual states to enact laws or regulations that, at a minimum, boost the scrutiny and cost involved for any of their nationals who seek to do business with Iran. Some states (referred to by the United States and EU-3 as the “like-minded”) may use the call for vigilance as an opportunity to go beyond the resolution’s requirements and formally prohibit a given activity. It could also be used as an excuse for governments to exercise oversight of commercial matters in which they might otherwise be politically or legally constrained. Indeed, as currently drafted, the provisions are sweeping in scope. This may suggest that although the draft’s actual prohibitions are incremental, like-minded states will seek to impose prohibitions of their own that are far more damaging. 

Second, vigilance provisions often foreshadow future prohibitions. For example, in 2006, Security Council Resolution 1737 called on states to exercise vigilance regarding the movements of several individuals linked to Iran; a year later, Resolution 1747 placed a travel ban on several of these individuals. Similarly, the draft resolution’s prohibitions on arms sales and banking relationships with Iran were preceded by corresponding vigilance provisions in earlier resolutions. In the same way, issues merely mentioned in the current draft — most notably the role of oil revenues in funding Iran’s nuclear program — may indicate which activities will be targeted for vigilance in future sanctions efforts. 

Impact of Arms-Related Measures 

If implemented, the draft’s proposed sanctions on conventional arms sales, assistance, and training would have varying effects on Iran’s military capabilities, especially over time. First, restrictions on the sale of ground combat systems (tanks, artillery, armored combat vehicles) would have only a limited impact on the Iranian army and IRGC ground forces. Iran has large numbers of these systems already and produces some of them internally. The primary effects would therefore be to prevent large purchases and future modernization. 

Limiting Iranian acquisition of other systems — particularly aircraft, attack helicopters, ships, and missiles — is more significant. All of these are vital to Iran’s ability to project power or defend against strikes on its nuclear facilities or other key targets. Whether it seeks to intimidate its Gulf neighbors or assert power in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran is significantly dependent on external sources for the modern air, naval, and missile systems required to support these capabilities. 

The draft’s restriction on sales of missiles or missile systems is especially noteworthy. This measure appears to cover surface-to-surface missile (SSM) systems and components. Iran continues to push for longer-range, more accurate, and more survivable SSM systems, but it needs foreign assistance in areas such as engines, guidance systems, and penetration aids. At minimum, retarding Iran’s SSM program would slow the developing threat it represents to other regional states and beyond. The measure would be still more significant if it applied to the sale of advanced air defense systems such as the Russian S-300 or similar Chinese systems. The S-300 has long been considered a game changer in terms of Israel’s ability and willingness to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. It would also increase the risk to any U.S. operations against Iran. The Islamic Republic remains keenly interested in acquiring the S-300 or an equivalent system; preventing this would facilitate any proposed attack and raise Iran’s sense of vulnerability to a strike. 

Finally, the resolution seems to toughen measures against importing or exporting prohibited items by air or sea. In addition to making it more difficult for Iran to acquire certain systems and components, these changes could complicate the regime’s efforts to supply Hizballah and Hamas. 

Explanation to the Iranian People 

One of the draft resolution’s key objectives is to influence Iranian decisionmaking about the nuclear program. Despite the international focus on the nuclear issue, however, Iran’s leaders — like leaders in most any other country — are primarily concerned about domestic politics. Therefore, the global community’s leverage on Iran will greatly depend on how the sanctions affect the Iranian domestic political scene. This realization lends particular importance to how the United States and other actors explain new sanctions to the Iranian people, who do not necessarily understand the objectives and strategy of the P-5+1. 

The Islamic Republic is already spinning the new sanctions proposal — and the cold reception that greeted the regime’s own concurrent nuclear fuel agreement with Brazil and Turkey — as evidence that the United States and the West are uninterested in solving problems and want only to impose their will on Iran. But the Iranian people have become quite suspicious of official information sources. That suspicion, combined with general incomprehension about what the new sanctions proposal entails, creates an opportunity to shape views. 

Obama administration officials have repeatedly said that they want to focus sanctions on the IRGC, which is responsible for much of the nuclear program as well as rampant human rights violations. That focus is not apparent in the current draft resolution, though it may emerge when the lists of targeted entities are added. In any case, given their country’s longstanding political culture, Iranians would be open to a message that the stated reasons for the sanctions differ from the actual reasons. 

Specifically, a concerted publicity campaign — with senior U.S. and Western officials appearing on Persian-language media outlets such as the BBC and Voice of America — could convince many Iranians that human rights violations had as much to do with spurring sanctions as the nuclear program. Such a campaign would have the additional merit of being true, at least for the many European governments that have been moved by public outcry about Tehran’s violent repression of dissent. The United States and its Western allies have a moral and practical interest in the Iranian democratic movement’s progress, so they should make an effort to connect their sanctions proposals to Iranian concerns. In short, how the sanctions are explained to the people of Iran may be as important as what sanctions are adopted. 

Patrick Clawson is director of the Iran Security Initiative and deputy director for research at The Washington Institute. Michael Singh is the Institute’s Ira Weiner fellow and former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council. Jeffrey White is a defense fellow at the Institute.

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Key Points

  • Winning the support of Russia and China for additional UN backed sanctions against Iran and its nuclear programme represents a considerable diplomatic achievement. However, this achievement comes at the price of reducing the content and potential impact of the draft Security Council resolution.
  • There is hope that the resolution’s provisions may nevertheless provide a basis for individual states to implement tougher measures.
  • Whilst international efforts to address Iran’s nuclear programme are welcome in Israel, there are considerable doubts over whether it will lead to significant Iranian concessions.
  • The emergence of a nuclear Iran would greatly destabilise the region, providing an umbrella for continued Iranian subversion, raising the potential for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and the possibility of a terror organisation acquiring a WMD capability. It is by no means clear that sanctions will prove sufficient to prevent this. If Iran continues on its path towards nuclear weapons capability, Israeli policy-makers face extremely difficult decisions ahead.


On the 18 May, a draft resolution proposing increased sanctions against Iran, in order to induce it to abandon its nuclear program, was agreed by all five permanent UN Security Council members. The announcement came a day after Brazil and Turkey made public a deal they had negotiated separately with Iran, whereby about half of Iran’s low-enriched uranium would be exported to Turkey where it would be turned into fuel rods. This deal is similar to one rejected by Iran several months ago. This analysis looks at the substance of the new proposed sanctions, and at the responses within Israel to this latest development. 

The resolution’s contents and prospects

The new draft sanctions resolution is backed by all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Achieving the support of Russia and China for additional sanctions against Iran represents a considerable diplomatic achievement for the United States, backed by Britain and France.  However, this achievement comes at the cost of significantly reducing the content and potential impact of the sanctions.

China blocked any measures to reduce Iranian oil exports and import of gasoline.  According to reports, the extensive energy relationship between Teheran and Beijing meant that the possibility of sanctions in this area was barely discussed in the deliberations leading up to the latest draft resolution. Russia’s main area of contention, meanwhile, was in the area of restricting sales of conventional weaponry to Iran.  Moscow has an extensive arms-sales relationship with Iran.

The draft resolution contains proposed sanctions on conventional arms sales, assistance, and training to Iran. However, it appears that the proposed register of weapons banned for sale to Iran specifically states that it “does not include ground-to-air missiles.”  Thus, Russian sales of the S-300 air defence system to Iran will not be affected by the resolution.  This system has been contracted by Iran, but Russia is thought to have not yet delivered it to the Iranians. It is particularly significant because the regime in Tehran is known to be seeking advanced air defence systems in order to protect its nuclear facilities from attack. 

The new draft resolution contains a significant six paragraph section on “illegal shipments”, which authorises the inspection of ships and planes bound for Iran if there is information providing reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel is carrying prohibited items.  However, again, the draft has built in limitations. Most importantly, it stipulates that the consent of the “flag state” – that is the state under whose flag the ship is sailing – must be given before a search can be carried out. States such as North Korea, which is known to play a major role in Iranian arms and missile supply, would be unlikely to accept such a search, limiting the efficacy of the measure. 

The draft resolution extends asset freezes to more individuals and entities associated with proliferation, including the Iranian Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), targeted by unilateral UK measures last year, and as yet unspecified elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It also proposes to increase the capacity of the UN to enforce the sanctions regime. However, a wide range of the new proposals in the financial sphere are non-binding, only calling on states to “exercise vigilance” toward certain activities including transactions with Iranian banks and with companies associated with the IRGC. These provisions are widely seen as providing a basis for individual states which wish to implement laws or regulations boosting scrutiny of the activities of their own nationals who do business with Iran.

Prospects for the resolution

The content of the resolution reflects the tension between wanting to keep all sides on board and the need to prevent excessive watering down of the measures. In this regard, it should be noted that the passing of the resolution in its current form is not certain. The Turkish-Brazilian proposal is not dead. Some Western diplomats have described Turkey and Brazil as naïve dupes to Iran’s game of prevarication. Other commentators, however, have called on the Brazil-Turkey deal to be given a chance, and accused the P5 powers of “petulance” in their negative reaction to the emerging powers making a deal over their heads.

If implemented, a deal to remove some enriched uranium from Iran would temporarily reduce the stockpile of raw material available for nuclear weapons. But due to the fact that the stockpile is constantly growing, the significance and utility of such an arrangement is declining all the time. The arrangement would also not deal with the substantive problems of Iran’s ongoing enrichment, or the IAEA’s unanswered questions over Iran’s alleged weaponisation research.

No date has been set for a vote on the new draft UN sanctions resolution, and Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN, said that this would take place only when all Council members had a chance to consider the document and when “conditions are right.”  At least a month is expected to pass before any vote. It remains to be seen how the Security Council members will absorb the new set of diplomatic options on the table.

Israel’s response to the new draft resolution

There is a consensus in Israel that a nuclear armed Iran would be extremely dangerous for Israel and the region. The Israeli fear is not simply that Iran might use a nuclear weapon against Israel. They also fear the proliferation of nuclear materials to terrorists, the triggering of an Arab nuclear arms race, and the impact on the Israeli economy, and national morale, of living in the shadow of an Iranian bomb.

Israel has long been lobbying, in public and in private, for the firmest possible measures to be taken against Iran through the UN Security Council, arguing that tough sanctions are the best way to force Iran to stop its march to nuclear weapons capability. However, the Israeli government has maintained an uncharacteristic silence in response to the latest developments.

Israeli officials privately noted that the draft resolution lacked the tough provisions that Jerusalem believes are necessary to force Iran to rethink its policy. In this regard, the absence of sanctions targeting the energy sector is seen as of particular importance. However, Israel has long stressed that the Iranian nuclear program is a problem for the whole international community, not for Israel alone, even though Israel is the only country threatened with destruction by the regime in Tehran. As one official  put it: “We always knew that a UN resolution would require international consensus and would be watered down without the teeth we hoped for. Nevertheless we support the resolution. It shows the international community united acting against the Iranian program. It’s an important symbolic act.”

This statement captures well the dilemma faced also by the West in negotiating the resolution. While there is a theoretical international consensus against a nuclear armed Iran, different countries have widely divergent levels of concern regarding this issue, and widely differing interests in the region which inform their levels of concern. As a result, not only is the sanctions regime that has been put in place in the last few years watered down, but many of Iran’s trading partners have simply ignored it. 

This, however, works both ways. Israel hopes that unilateral actions taken by the United States and allied countries, on the basis of a strict interpretation of the new draft resolution, may result in measures that may have a greater effect on the Iranian economy.

Should the proposed resolution be passed, there is no doubt that its impact would be an appreciable increase in the cost to Iran of pursuing its nuclear programme. However, while such results are desirable, there remains a large gap between this and measures which would prove sufficient to induce Iran to reverse or abandon its nuclear drive.

Current and former Israeli officials express doubt as to whether the sanctions resolution, even if passed, implemented, and unilaterally improved upon by Western states, would prove sufficient.  Ephraim Ascoulai, a former official at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, told reporters that “the sanctions will be ineffective, come too late, it won’t achieve anything in the way. I don’t think it will change Iran’s timetable by an iota.”

Defence analysts Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff wrote last week in Haaretz, following a recent simulation by an Israeli think-tank looking at the impact of the emergence of a nuclear Iran: “The United States may still succeed in its attempts to impose international sanctions, but those sanctions seem unlikely to derail the mullahs from their efforts, with the probability of an American military strike seeming even slimmer.”

There are therefore those in Israel who increasingly fear that the Obama administration may privately assess that a nuclear Iran is inevitable, and may be moving toward laying the groundwork for a strategy of containment.  


The emergence of a nuclear Iran would greatly destabilise the region, providing an umbrella for continued Iranian subversion, possibly triggering a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and raising the possibility of a terror organisation acquiring a WMD capability. A nuclear-armed state publicly committed to the destruction of the Jewish state is a nightmare scenario for Israeli policy makers. Whilst the high degree of international attention now being focussed on stopping Iran acquiring nuclear weapons capability is welcome in Israel, Israelis are not optimistic that it will prove successful. As such, Israel’s leaders face tough decisions ahead.

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Iranian ploy backfires

Deal mediated by Turkey, Brazil prompts Obama to accelerate sanctions

Eytan Gilboa 


In light of past experience, this was a predictable ploy. Every time the noose tightens around Iran’s neck, it pulls a rabbit out of its hat in order to buy some more time and deceive the international community. However, after some political maneuvers and delays, the US managed in recent weeks to secure international support for a fourth round of harsher sanctions against Tehran.

The “deal” signed with Brazilian and Turkish mediation is yet another deceptive ploy by Tehran meant to torpedo the American plan. Yet for the time being, Obama and his partners have not bought into it. Although the negotiations on the new sanctions had not been completed, the latest deal forced Obama to wake up and accelerate his plan. 
The president had no other choice but to immediately present the Security Council with a draft agreement on harsher sanctions; otherwise, the strategy he formulated in order to stop the Iranian bomb – a strategy that as it is did not bring any results thus far – would have collapsed completely. 

Iran thought that bringing in Turkey and Brazil in an effort to resolve the disagreement would crush the American initiative or at least sabotage it, yet in practice the deal may prompt the opposite result. 

The Iranian ploy is so transparent and crude that nobody in the world buys into it, with the exception of its own initiators and Iran supporters worldwide. Moreover, the Great Powers are infuriated that second-tier states such as Turkey and Brazil are trying to dictate the terms to them. It’s also possible that the latest ploy was simply the last straw. 

Obama’s challenge, opportunity

Turkey and Brazil are currently Security Council members and will make an effort to protect the deal. The weak links, Russia and China, which only agreed to approve watered-down sanctions, may exploit the situation in order to take the initiative and press Iran to accept the West’s terms. These include a freeze on uranium enrichment in Iran, enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes outside of Iran – but not in the suspect Turkey – and the provision of answers to the IAEA and acceptance of its monitoring terms.

Iran is engaged in an all-out psychological war against the US and the battle for the bomb has just moved up a notch. Tehran is highly experienced in “Persian Bazaar-style” negotiations and proved that it’s more capable than its rivals when it comes to this war of nerves. Indeed, Iran may pull more rabbits out of its hat before a substantive sanctions proposal comes up for a vote. 
Meanwhile, Obama is facing a challenge to his nuclear strategy, his international leadership, and his ability to manage crises. He has an opportunity to boost America’s status in the world in general, and in the Middle East in particular. The question is whether he’ll be wise enough to take advantage of it. 
The writer is a Political Science and Communication lecturer and a US expert at Bar-Ilan University.


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