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Mounting tension between Iran and the West

As the European Union announces stronger sanctions against Iran over its nuclear enrichment programme, the still contentious issue has led to further escalation of tensions between Iran and the West. Amidst much talk of democracy and human rights, the western approach towards Iran is still marred by hostility.


Iran continues to deny any intentions to develop nuclear weapons, but this does not appear to satisfy the western appetite to “do something” against Tehran spurred on, it must be said, by nuclear-armed Israel. The US has already imposed its harshest ever economic sanctions, which, of course, hurt ordinary citizens, and now the EU has weighed in with its own serious sanctions regime.

The latest sanctions freeze the assets held in the EU by 30 Iranian entities, including the National Iranian Oil Company, the National Tanker Company and the Naftiran Intertrade Company. Furthermore, restrictions have been imposed on the Iranian Central Bank and other financial institutions. In addition, the main European communications satellite, Eutelsat, has stopped carrying 19 state-run telecast stations in Iran, though in Europe these are still accessible on the Internet. Other sanctions already in place often make it necessary for Iranian civilian aircraft to leave with full fuel tanks and reduced cargo capacity and then refuel in non-EU states. As is often the case in such situations, there is a degree of double standards applied to the sanctions; they protect western interests. For example, the Shah Deniz oil project in Azerbaijan, which is led jointly by BP and Norway’s Statoil is exempt from the sanctions even though Naftiran has a 10 per cent stake.

The aim of the sanctions is to sow the seeds of disaffection among Iranians and put pressure on the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Thus, ordinary people have to suffer the brunt of the sanctions, not least because shipments of medicines, including those sent from individuals abroad to their families in Iran, are being blocked. Domestic air travel in Iran has become increasingly dangerous because aging passenger aircraft are unable to be maintained properly due to spare parts being on the list of prohibited goods. US Senator Mark Kirk insists that “…so much suffering must be inflicted on the people that they rebel.” Commenting on doing harm to the people of Iran, Representative Brad Sherman said, “We need to do just that.”

Obviously, Iran is well aware of such intentions, but the sanctions regime will only alienate Tehran even further from the West. It will even cause a split in the UN Security Council, with Iran’s ally Russia present to apply a veto if necessary.

It is in this sort of scenario that the champions of democracy and human rights in the West have opted to increase the suffering of millions of people instead of taking a more liberal and humanitarian approach.

The proper course of action should be an all-party compromise solution reached through discussion and compromise and not the threat of war. After all, Iran is a respectable and responsible member of the community of nations, hosting recently the 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran. It has every right to pursue a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes and, it could be argued, for military purposes as well, for its own security.

All of the five permanent members of the Security Council have huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, as have three of Iran’s near-neighbours: Israel, India and Pakistan. Why, it is reasonable to ask, does the West not decommission its own nuclear arsenal, and insist on belligerent states such as Israel destroying theirs, before pushing for Iran to stop its nuclear development? History shows that western adventures in Asia are often self-defeating, but the leadership in American and Europe don’t appear to have learnt anything from it.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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