Iran Sanctions About to Increase

— by Max Samis

The Los Angeles Times reported that the multilateral sanctions led by President Barack Obama are set to increase this weekend.

Extract from Los Angeles Times follows the jump.
Over the next four days, Western governments will launch their toughest sanctions yet against Iran. The steps are designed to eviscerate the oil-based economy, and to test Tehran’s determination to keep enriching uranium in defiance of United Nations resolutions.

The United States and European Union will impose an oil embargo, as well as a ban on tanker insurance and other measures that analysts say could slash Iran’s foreign sales of oil – its largest source of revenue – by more than half.

That would cost Iran about $4 billion a month, experts say, a substantial amount given the country’s estimated foreign currency reserves of $60 billion to $100 billion.

Western governments hope the added pressure will help break the deadlock in a decade-old struggle to persuade Iran to accept limits on nuclear development – before it completes research that many nations fear is aimed at learning how to build a nuclear weapon.

In three rounds of negotiations this year, Iranian officials showed little inclination to compromise. They insist their nation’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Western officials and analysts say Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may reconsider if the tightening sanctions stir unhappiness among merchants and consumers. Perhaps more important will be the squeeze on businesses and industries controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a key part of the power structure that is influential with Khamenei.

‘As time passes and dollars are lost, inevitably ordinary Iranians are going to ask the question, “Is it worth it?”‘ said Cliff Kupchan, a former State Department official now at the Eurasia Group consulting firm in Washington.

Western governments appear prepared to let the sanctions build through the summer, and even increase the pressure. In Washington, Congress is finishing legislation that would tighten sanctions further on Iran’s oil sector.

Romney Little Different From Obama On Foreign Policy

— by David Streeter

Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta noted in the Los Angeles Times today that for all of his bluster and smears regarding the President’s foreign policy — including border-line “belligerent” statements — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has yet to state what exactly he would do differently from the President on a wide range of issues.

Highlights of article follow the jump.

Romney has roughed up Obama with a hawkish tone – at times bordering on belligerent. Yet for all his criticisms of the president, it has been difficult to tell exactly what Romney would do differently.

He has argued that reelecting Obama will result in Iran having a nuclear weapon – without explaining how. He has charged that Obama should have taken ‘more assertive steps’ to force out the repressive regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad – but has said he is not ‘anxious to employ military action.’ He accused Obama of tipping his hand to the Taliban by announcing a timeline for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, but also accepts the 2014 timeline.

Romney’s approach could be seen in his take on the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist who in early May sought shelter at the American Embassy before leaving his country. As Americans officials negotiated over his fate, Romney suggested that the Obama administration had put Chen in danger to placate the Chinese.

He said that if reports he had heard were true, ‘this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.’

Two weeks later, when Chen arrived in New York, Romney declared himself ‘relieved’ and said the episode ‘underscores the need for the United States to forthrightly stand up for the human rights of the Chinese people.’

At no point did he elaborate on how his approach would have differed from Obama’s.

Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says he does not yet see ‘a huge difference’ between the foreign policy approaches of Obama and Romney.

‘A lot is made of Romney’s tough talk with respect to Russia and Iran and China, but even there it’s not like I see a dearth of toughness on the part of President Obama,’ Preble said….

Foreign policy is not Romney’s strength; 2008 GOP nominee John McCain defeated the former Massachusetts governor in primaries that year in part because of his international expertise. In Washington Post-ABC News poll last month, 53% of respondents said they trusted Obama to do a better job handling international affairs. Thirty-six percent picked Romney….

On Iran, Romney frequently faults Obama for waiting too long to put ‘crippling sanctions’ in place on the central bank and the petroleum industry, measures that the Obama administration agreed to late last year. But when asked what further steps Romney would take to crack down on Iran, campaign aides said they were keeping an eye on legislation working its way through Congress that would put sanctions on regime officials and that Romney’s main task would be to make sure the current sanctions are vigorously enforced.

In addition, Romney has said he would do more to support dissidents in Iran and make it clear that military action by the U.S. is a real option (something Romney charges Obama has failed to do, though the president has repeatedly said all options are on the table).