Increased Sanctions Continue to Pressure Iran’s Economy

— Max Samis

It has been several weeks since President Barack Obama first increased sanctions on Iran, effectively cutting off Iran’s central bank from the global economy. To this point, the evidence is overwhelming that these sanctions have had a strong effect on Iran’s economy and government.

Previously a major importer of steel, Iranian steel traders have found their business “grinding to a halt.”

More after the jump.
According to Reuters:

Iranian buyers cannot obtain dollars or euros, forcing them to offer letters of credit in alternative currencies such as the Indian rupee, Korean won and Russian rubles.

Most steel traders, wary of currency risk and taxation issues, are not willing to accept this form of payment.

‘Now you can really feel the effects of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe…It is very difficult to do any business with Iran at the moment,’ a steel trader at a Swiss metals trading house said.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Iranian oil flow has taken a massive hit. Reuters wrote:

Iran could be forced to place unsold barrels into floating storage or even shut in production in the second half of this year, the IEA said on Friday in its monthly Oil Market Report.

‘International sanctions targeting Iran’s existing oil exports do not come into effect until July 1, but they are already having an impact on crude trade flows in Europe, Asia and the Middle East,’ it said.

‘Although there are five months before restrictions on existing contracts take effect, European customers have already curtailed imports of Iranian crude and Asian buyers are lining up alternative sources of supply,’ the IEA said, adding that European customers were likely to look to Russia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia for replacement barrels.

Bloomberg added that owners of over 100 supertankers have now said they will stop loading oil supplies from Iran.

In an interview with Haaretz, Dennis Ross, Obama’s former Middle East advisor, stated that ‘The fact is [Iran’s] currency has devalued by half in the last six weeks… I’d say sanctions are working, if that’s the case.’ Haaretz wrote:

These sanctions, Ross said, are the crippling sanctions Israel has called for, and can affect Iran’s behavior. When the Iranians feel they are under sufficient pressure, they look for a way to reduce it, Ross said, and right now they are under pressure they have not been under before. ‘It’s not an accident that suddenly they want to meet with the P5 +1,’ Ross said, referring to the forum of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.

Ross also stated his belief that sanctions are forcing Iran to the negotiating table in an op-ed in The New York Times. Ross wrote:

Iran cannot do business with or obtain credit from any reputable international bank, nor can it easily insure its ships or find energy investors. According to Iran’s oil ministry, the energy sector needs more than $100 billion in investments to revitalize its aging infrastructure; it now faces a severe shortfall.

New American penalties on Iran’s central bank and those doing business with it have helped trigger an enormous currency devaluation. In the last six weeks, the Iranian rial has declined dramatically against the dollar, adding to the economic woes Iran is now confronting…

Now, with Iran feeling the pressure, its leaders suddenly seem prepared to talk. Of course, Iran’s government might try to draw out talks while pursuing their nuclear program. But if that is their strategy, they will face even more onerous pressures, when a planned European boycott of their oil begins on July 1.

As sanctions continue to take effect, international pressure will only continue to increase against Iran’s nuclear program.  

Amb. Rice: U.S. Will Stand With Israel to Prevent Nuclear Armed Iran

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— by Max Samis

Yesterday, new sanctions were imposed on Iran that effectively cut off the country’s central bank from the global economy. Following this announcement United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on MSNBC, where she discussed the sanctions with Andrea Mitchell:

The President has been very clear. The United States will stand with Israel and the rest of the international community to take the steps necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This is a matter of great importance to our national security, as well as to countries in the region, obviously including Israel. We want to continue to increase the pressure on Iran-the economic pressure-to change its behavior, to change course and come clean about its nuclear program. We have ratcheted up the sanctions at every stage. The United Nations in June 2010 passed the broadest and harshest sanctions to date on Iran and those are having a real bite. We have passed, on a national basis, ever tougher sanctions. The EU has done the same. Countries in the Gulf Region and Asia, Canada, and many others around the world.  

And Iran is really starting to feel economic pressure-by their own admission-from the highest levels they’re saying that it’s crippling and biting. We think that pressure needs to have an opportunity to play its course. As the President has said repeatedly, we have taken no options off the table. But we hope and believe that it might be possible yet for this situation to be addressed through diplomacy. That is our hope. We will continue these efforts while ratcheting up the pressure on Iran and be clear in our determination that they will not gain nuclear weapons.

New Sanctions Create Clear Lines For Isolating Iran

— by Benjamin Suarato

President Obama issued an executive order yesterday, which was released today, extending sanctions against Iran to include the Iranian Central Bank, a move welcomed by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs for its far reaching impact in isolating the Iranian regime. The sanctions were originally passed by Congress as part of the Department of Defense Reauthorization.

“We thank President Obama and Congress for their commitment to using powerful economic tools in the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Iran has continually threatened the United States and our allies in the region – especially Israel,” said JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The escalating intensity of the U.S. sanctions regime, which now includes all who do business with Iran’s Central Bank, is a signal of our seriousness in stopping their dangerous nuclear weapons program.”

“With these sanctions, the US has drawn a clear line. You cannot continue to benefit from the prosperity and security of access to our markets and friendships while contributing to Iran’s ability to undermine our fundamental security interests,” said JCPA chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “This Congressional legislation and the White House’s prompt implementation of it should send a message to Iran and the rest of the international community that when the President says an Iranian nuclear weapon is ‘unacceptable,’ he means it.”

Obama Scores Sunday Touchdown with Iran Central Bank Sanctions

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(NJDC) Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that effectively cut off Iran’s central bank from the global economy-an executive order made public one hour ago. In a letter to Congress, Obama explained that the sanctions are necessary “particularly in light of the deceptive practices of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian banks.” According to the AP, Obama “said the problems included the hiding transactions of sanctioned parties, the deficiencies of Iran’s anti-money laundering regime and the unacceptably high risk posed to the entire international financial system posed by Iran’s activities.” NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris said:

Sunday’s actions by President Barack Obama that were made public today, combined with the Administration’s record of gathering global partners to help block a nuclear Iran, should end any doubt about the President’s singular commitment to ensuring Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. Obama’s record is crystal clear; he has done more than any president in history to isolate Iran and encourage Iran’s leaders to change course. By dramatically severing Iran’s economy completely from the United States, the President has taken another powerful step to safeguard America’s and Israel’s security alike-even as previous steps are yielding results. We thank President Obama for his leadership on this issue and for his actions yesterday; indeed all supporters of a secure Israel and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship owe him a debt of gratitude.

(The Department of the Treasury issued a fact sheet about the new sanctions.)

Prior to the Super Bowl, Obama discussed U.S. cooperation with Israel on thwarting Iran’s nuclear program in a pre-Super Bowl interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer. Obama told Lauer:

[Israel] like us believe[s] that Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons program. And we have mobilized the international community in a way that is unprecedented. And they are feeling the pinch. They are feeling the pressure. But they have not taken the step that they need to diplomatically which is to say we will pursue nuclear power, we will not pursue a nuclear weapon. Until they do, I think Israel rightly is going to be very concerned. And we will as well….

We have closer military intelligence consultation than we ever have. My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States but also the security of Israel and we are gonna make sure that we work in lockstep as we work to try to solve this, hopefully diplomatically.

… Our goal is to resolve this issue diplomatically… We’re not going to take any options off the table though. … Our preferred solution here is diplomatic; we’re going to keep pushing on that front, but we’re not going to take any options off the table. And I’ve been very clear that we’re going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and creating an arms race-a nuclear arms race-in a volatile region.

(See video to watch the full interview from yesterday.)

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Obama said during a segment that aired this morning on NBC’s Today Show:

I think we have a very good estimate of when they could potentially achieve breakout capacity … Do we know all of the dynamics inside of Iran? Absolutely not. … Iran itself is a lot more divided now than it was. Knowing who is making decisions at any given time inside of Iran is tough. We do have a pretty good read on what is happening with the nuclear program.

Obama also reiterated that all options remain on the table for stopping Iran:

We have done extensive planning over the last several years over our various options in the Gulf. We are prepared to exercise these options should the need arise. But my goal is to resolve this diplomatically mainly because the only way over the long term we can ensure doesn’t get a nuclear weapon is by getting them to understand it’s not in their interest.

Click here or on the video box below to watch the full interview from this morning.


The Anti-Israel Movement: BDS On Campus

This weekend, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, a conference will be held. The gathering, which the University is hosting, has been arranged by a group which is identified by the acronym BDS. BDS refers to the movement dedicated to punishing, vilifying and delegitimizing the State of Israel in three ways.

  • First, this group encourages “B”, boycotting Israeli products.
  • Second, the group advocates “D”, divesting from companies which do business in and with Israel.
  • And third is “S”, the efforts to convince governments around the world to impose sanctions against Israel.

[Read more…]

Obama State of the Union: Iran Nuclear Program Will Be Stopped

The Israel Program – Washington, Jan. 24 – U.S. President Obama said Tuesday he would take no options off the table to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons but added that a peaceful resolution of the crisis was still possible.

In his State of the Union Address to Congress, Obama took credit for uniting the international community in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program.

The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.

Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.

Last month, Obama signed into law new sanctions that target foreign entities that do business with the Central Bank of Iran, which the Islamic Republic uses to process payments for its oil exports. And this week, the European Union approved a ban on oil purchases from Iran due to take effect in July.

Obama only briefly mentioned Israel in his address and did not talk about the Palestinians.

Our iron-clad commitment, and I mean iron clad, to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.

Focusing largely on domestic policy in a speech that looks ahead to November’s presidential election, Obama briefly discussed the uprisings that have swept the Arab world in the past year but broke no new ground.

How this incredible transformation will end remains uncertain. But we have a huge stake in the outcome. And while it is ultimately up to the people of the region to decide their fate, we will advocate for those values that have served our own country so well. We will stand against violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings – men and women; Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

Reinforcing Obama’s words on Iran, Israel’s United Nations Ambassador Ron Prosor told the Security Council on Tuesday that the sanctions recently approved by the EU and the United States should be judged by their results.

Each and every member of the United Nations, and particularly of this Council, should lie awake at night thinking about what would happen if the regime in Iran gets hold of the most dangerous weapon on earth. Only the pressure of a united international community can stop Iran from continuing its march toward nuclear weapons.

Obama Signs into Law Toughest Sanctions Yet on Iran

  • Law aimed at curtailing Iranian oil exports
  • Iranians ask for new talks as sanctions gain traction

President Barak Obama signed into law a new defense bill that imposes the strictest sanctions yet on Iran. With more pressure on Tehran, Iranians are now calling for new talks on its nuclear program in another apparent attempt to avoid international condemnation of their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The sanctions can be imposed on institutions dealing with Iran’s central bank, the main conduit for Iranian petroleum sales, and would ban the institutions from American markets. They are the result of previous international calls for “crippling sanctions” that would force Iran to finally respect repeated United Nations resolutions demanding a halt to its nuclear program.

In the face of harsh world reaction, Iran also backed down from threats last week that the Iranian military would respond to the sanctions by blocking shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. A senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, said the time was not right to raise the issue of closing the vital shipping lanes.

The new sanctions also come on the heels of a damning report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November that indicated Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons.

More after the jump.
The Iranians are in the midst of 10-day military exercise in which they are testing various weapons including anti-ship missiles and torpedoes that would threaten both commercial shipping and American warships stationed in the Gulf. The Iranian weapons program also includes long-range missiles that can reach Europe. The IAEA report expressed fears of “development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Obama has said that the United States would not tolerate an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, and sees a nuclear Iran as a threat to regional and world peace.

As the heated Iowa caucus looms ahead, Republican presidential frontrunners  also have the Iran issue on their front burner.

Mitt Romney:

I don’t trust the ayatollahs, I don’t trust [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. “I will do everything in my power to assure that Iran doesn’t become a nuclear nation [and] threaten Israel, threaten us and threaten the entire world…. Frankly, the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran.

Romney’s views are in stark contrast with Rep. Ron Paul who earlier this month during a debate in Sioux City, Iowa, cautioned against “jumping the gun” when it comes to Iran. Paul said during the Fox News debate:

I would say that the greatest danger is overreacting. There is no evidence that they have it. And it would make more sense – if we lived through the Cold War, which we did, with 30,000 missiles pointed at us, we ought to really sit back and think and not jump the gun and believe that we are going to be attacked.

The sanctions were approved just after the U.S. government agreed to a major weapons sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, viewed as key American allies and both harboring fears of a nuclear armed Iran.

Gen. Dempsey: All Options “Executable” to Stop Iran

— by David Streeter

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told CNN that all options remain on the table for stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He said he is “satisfied” that the options being considered will be “executable” if needed. According to CNN:

As Gen. Martin Dempsey toured around the globe over the last eight days, one issue was prominent-Iran’s nuclear intentions.

Dempsey, in an exclusive interview with CNN, warned that Iran is playing a dangerous game that could ensnare the Middle East, the United States and others into conflict and a renewed nuclear arms race. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff heard about growing concerns about Iran’s ambitions.

‘My biggest worry is they will miscalculate our resolve,’ Dempsey said in an interview conducted during a stop in Afghanistan. ‘Any miscalculation could mean that we are drawn into conflict, and that would be a tragedy for the region and the world.’…

Behind the scenes Dempsey is quietly leading the ongoing military planning for an attack against Iran’s nuclear weapons in the event the president gives the order to do so.

‘We are examining a range of options,’ Dempsey said, echoing the ‘all options on the table’ line used by administration officials.

Dempsey, the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military, said the military options are achievable.

‘I am satisfied that the options that we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable if necessary,’ he said.

Dempsey’s remarks coincided with an announcement by the Treasury Department that 10 new Iran shipping companies and a shipping executive were blacklisted through expanded sanctions measures. The Washington Post also reported that the value of Iran’s currency has dramatically plunged due to the country’s increasing isolation.  

US: “Nuclear Iran Unacceptable;” Iran: “Sanctions Hurt.”

— by David Streeter

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS News that a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable” and that the United States “will take whatever steps necessary to stop it.” The exchange between Panetta and CBS’ Scott Pelley went as follows:

Pelley: If the Israelis decide to launch a military strike to prevent that weapon from being built, what sort of complications does that raise for you?
Panetta: Well, we share the same common concern. The United States does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us and that’s a red line, obviously, for the Israelis. If we have to do it we will deal with it.
Pelley: You just said if we have to do it we will come and do it. What is it?
Panetta: If they proceed and we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps necessary to stop it.
Pelley: Including military steps?
Panetta: There are no options off the table
Pelley: A nuclear weapon in Iran is…
Panetta: Unacceptable.

Panetta’s statements coincide with recent admissions from Iranian government officials that the country is sustaining damage from the recently-increased sanctions.

Coverage from the New York Times follows the jump.

Iran’s veneer of stoicism toward the Western sanctions that have disrupted its economy showed some new strains on Monday, as the deputy oil minister acknowledged a decline in domestic petroleum production because of dwindling foreign investment, and four-year-old talks between the Iranians and Poland’s biggest natural gas developer collapsed.

The Iranians also suffered an embarrassment after prematurely announcing that a Russian oil company had committed $1 billion to help revive a dormant oil field in Iran’s southwest. Hours later, the Russian company, Tatneft, denied on its Web site that a deal had been signed. And there were signals that Saudi Arabia, which Iran had confidently predicted last week would not increase oil production to compensate for any Iranian shortfall caused by the sanctions, was becoming increasingly irritated with Iran.

Together, the developments portrayed Iran, with the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves and second-largest natural gas reserves, as struggling more than it had admitted from the effects of the Western sanctions, despite its official denunciations of them as desperate measures doomed to fail or backfire.

The sanctions, imposed to pressure Iran into ending its suspect nuclear program, were strengthened last month, with the possibility of more onerous restrictions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry looming from the United   States and the European Union. Under a measure that is likely to be signed into law by President Obama, foreign entities that do business with Iran’s central bank, the conduit for Iran’s oil revenue, could face severe penalties if they do business in the United States.

Iran’s deputy oil minister, Ahmad Qalebani, appeared to have made an unusual disclosure about the effects of sanctions in an article reported by the official Iranian Students’ News Agency, which quoted him as saying Iran’s crude oil production in 2011 had declined from the year before. He said the decline was ‘due to lack of investment in oil field development.’

Iran produced about 4 million barrels a day of oil in 2010 and is producing about 3.5 million barrels this year.

Mr. Qalebani’s disclosure followed recent warnings by other Iranian officials that the effects of sanctions had become more acute. The foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying, ‘We cannot pretend the sanctions are not having an effect.’ The governor of Iran’s central bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, told reporters in Iran last week that the country must act as if it were ‘under siege,’ Agence France-Presse reported.