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Does Obama Want an Agreement with Iran or Not?

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What are President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry up to with Iran? First they boasted of a historic interim agreement with Iran regarding its civilian nuclear program — an agreement which demonstrates that the Islamic Republic won’t be making nuclear weapons — something it has shown no inclination to do anyway. Then they prevailed on the U.S. Senate to hold off on imposing more economic sanctions on the Iranian people before there’s been a chance to move from the six-month interim pact to a permanent agreement.

But there have been conflicting signals. While ostensibly defending the interim agreement before a pro-Israel audience at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, Obama put the chances of a permanent agreement at only 50 percent. Why the lack of optimism, given the recent successful round of negotiations? Was he playing the Israel card — the White House is in close consultation with Israeli officials — when he instead ought to be going out of his way to make sure that no war with Iran will occur? (Obama has repeatedly said “all options are on the table,” including military force.)

And as if that weren’t bad enough, his administration risked sabotaging the talks between Iran and the P5+1 by imposing new sanctions on over a dozen companies that do business with Iran (right before telling the Senate to hold off). The move initially prompted Iran to leave the negotiations, charging the United States with violating the spirit of the interim agreement, which is supposed to give slight sanctions relief in return for substantial Iranian concessions. Fortunately, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, now says Iran will continue to negotiate.

Why the new sanctions after blocking the Senate from doing essentially the same thing?

“Today’s actions should be a stark reminder to businesses, banks and brokers everywhere that we will continue relentlessly to enforce our sanctions, even as we explore the possibility of a long-term, comprehensive resolution of our concerns with Iran’s nuclear program,” said Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, the sanctions tsar. “Iran is still off limits.”

Do Obama and Kerry want peace with Iran or not? If so, they have a funny way of showing it.

The danger of Obama’s policy should be obvious. If Iranian officials come to believe that no matter what they do, U.S.-led economic warfare against the Iranian people — for sanctions are nothing less than this — will continue, the hope of a thaw in the absurd cold war will be dashed, and war could follow.

Iran has not been making — and has no intention of making — a nuclear bomb. U.S. and Israeli intelligence say so repeatedly. Just the same, Iran is bending over backwards to demonstrate this to the satisfaction of the U.S. and other governments, to the point that it has agreed to permit daily inspections of its facilities and to render its 20 percent–enriched uranium useless for weapons purposes. In exchange for these major steps, the interim agreement provides the most modest change in the sanctions regime, including freeing up a small amount of the Iranian assets that have been frozen for many years.

What does Iran get in return for this show of good will? New sanctions by the U.S. administration after consultation with Israel, which along with the United States has conducted covert and proxy war against Iran for decades.

This is disgraceful behavior from a Nobel Peace Prize winner, isn’t it?

Sanctions are an attack on blameless people. “The existing sanctions regime is inflicting hardship on millions of innocent Iranians, people as decent as the US citizens,” writes Peter Jenkins, former UK ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Administration. “Iran’s new government is signalling for all to see that it has no intention of ever posing a nuclear threat. So sanctions have become redundant, an unjust superfluity.”

“Millions of lives are at risk in Iran because western economic sanctions are hitting the importing of medicines and hospital equipment, the country’s top medical charity has warned,” reports the Guardian. “Fatemeh Hashemi, head of the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases, a non-government organisation supporting six million patients in Iran, has complained about a serious shortage of medicines for a number of diseases such as haemophilia, multiple sclerosis and cancer.”

How can we let this go on in our name?

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.