24 March 2007

Iran Sanctions

I am reminded of one of my visits to America, about three years ago. On arrival in Los Angeles after an eleven hour flight, passport control was confused as to why I was travelling as a tourist when I had previously held a green card, and so they escorted me to Immigration and Naturalisation Services, where I joined what turned out to be a five to six hour queue for processing (while my wife waited outside the airport with our then 15-month-old and 3½-year-old jetlagged, over-tired children). I was struck by a rebuke I overheard one of the INS officers make to another of the passport controllers: "Just because someone is travelling on an Iranian passport doesn't mean you have to send them to us."

The UN Security Council's unanimously-backed new sanctions, blocking Iranian arms exports and freezing the assets of individuals and companies involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programmes, are clearly necessary and send a clear message to the country's leadership. However, the reality is that they are unlikely to have any real effect and we must be extremely careful how we proceed from here or we will once again find more innocent civilians inconvenienced (or worse) and more civil liberties threatened.

As I have warned repeatedly before, military action against Iran would undoubtedly have the reverse effects to those desired, possibly even rallying the people of Iran behind their hardline president, and economic sanctions would have little, if any, impact, not least because of the money the regime possesses from its oil exports. If the West is to have any positive influence over what happens inside Iran, we need to engage intelligently with the culture's sense of shame. Contrary to the image often cultivated in the Western media, Iranians are extremely welcoming of Westerners, including Americans, and the vast majority seem to desire better relations with us. Treating the state as a pariah, banning travel by its diplomats for instance, would be insulting to the Iranian's national pride and could well accelerate both the people's growing impatience with their choice of leader and the clerical elite's dissatisfaction with what even they reportedly consider as his extremism.


Lucy M said...

While I agree that military and economic sanctions do not ultimately provide a way to heal the rift between Iran and the rest of the world, "engaging with the sense of shame" of the Iranian people is going to take more time than the captured British marines have at their disposal.

The Difference said...

Lucy, I agree - the government needs to be doing a lot more to secure their release than just saying their seizure was "unjustified and wrong." One can't help but wonder, as Iain Dale has done, "If a certain Iron Lady had been PM we would have heard slightly more from her than we have from Mr Blair."