It could be a case of too little, too late for Iran's leaders to indicate a willingness to resume negotiations about its nuclear program. Saeed Jalili, president of Iran's Supreme National Security Council had this to say to reporters in a recent visit to New Delhi, India, "We have accepted that these talks should be held in January."
Why now, one might wonder? That seems to be a three-fold answer:
- Previous U.S. sanctions targeted individuals and firms linked to Iran's nuclear industry;
- Iran's currency has been reduced in value by 40% since August, 2012 while exports of its chief source of hard currency - petroleum - has been cut in half;
- Iran's automobile industry has incurred a 40% decrease in production since last year. Medical imports have been hit particularly hard, causing the cost of many essential treatments to double.
Still, previous sanctions failed to cause widespread poverty nor did they inspire protests as some had predicted. There has been, however, a slow slide toward lower consumer spending and higher unemployment.
What are the new U.S. sanctions meant to do in addition to those already employed?
- Create a true trade embargo which is designed to undercut Iran's major financial pillars and threaten the country with economic collapse.
- Blacklist whole sectors of the Iranian economy to literally freeze all non-humanitarian commercial trade with Iran.
- Make it more difficult for Iran to evade sanctions through front operations.
- Impose sanctions against international companies with Iranian firms in the targeted industrial sectors.
- Block Iran from obtaining aluminum, steel, coal and other materials critical for construction and vehicle manufacturing.
- Block Iran from engaging in barter trade with other countries for its oil.
- Impose sanctions on some state-run media.
Some agree these new measures, passed as part of a defense spending bill in the waning hours of the 112th Congress, are counterproductive and disproportionately harmful to ordinary Iranians. Others argue the measures are not strong enough to deter Iran's nuclear progress and advocate even stronger measures, including military actions.
Either way, the Obama administration is under serious pressure to reach a deal with Iran that would severely limit its ability to make nuclear weapons from its nuclear facilities. In December 2012 a group of prominent U.S. diplomats, policy experts and national security officers urged President Obama, by way of letter, to pursue a robust diplomatic initiative in the coming weeks to fulfill his campaign pledge to resolve this issue.
Keep your eyes on the January calendar.