By Styliani Kampani. Originally published on 2012/02/13

The Iran case turned up in the West­ern media front­lines (again) in Decem­ber 2011. With Iran enrich­ing uranium by 20% and defy­ing Inter­na­tional Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) reg­u­la­tions, it ended up with a bunch of sanc­tions. The major­ity of the west­ern soci­et­ies have repeatedly expressed their severe con­cern about Iran’s doubt­ful nuc­lear pro­gram. First and fore­most the USA and Canada along with the EU adop­ted the heavy sanc­tions that they had been threat­en­ing within the past few months. Rus­sia, China and other Asian states are crit­ical of the sanc­tions and keep a more mod­er­ate and neut­ral pos­i­tion. On the other side Iran remains firm, claim­ing that its nuc­lear plan is for solely destined peace­ful pur­poses and also within the lim­its of inter­na­tional law. Then why so much noise about a coun­try that pos­sesses nuc­lear power since 1950?

Fear of nuc­lear power

Power and secur­ity is what every single coun­try seeks in an unpre­dict­able global sys­tem. Taken this nuc­lear recourses could even­tu­ally offer the stra­tegic advant­age. In 2003 Iran star­ted its nuc­lear pro­gram which is said to be developed for elec­tri­city pro­duc­tion. Nev­er­the­less, invest­ig­at­ors from both sides of the Atlantic sus­pect with good reason that Iran is try­ing to pro­duce nuc­lear weapons. This forms quite a threat for the West, since pos­sess­ing nuc­lear weapons raises issues of inter­na­tional secur­ity. Some fear that nuc­lear could fall into the hands of ter­ror­ists and spread around the wider area. Oth­ers sup­port that a nuc­lear Iran would set off a proliferation-spiral in the Middle East turn­ing this crit­ical region into a tinder­box. Apart from that, Iran the­or­et­ic­ally could trig­ger a new con­flict with Israel that would def­in­itely push US in it. Or altern­at­ively US ally­ing with Israel could start up a pre-emptive war against Iran. It worth’s men­tion­ing here the ongo­ing dis­putes in the Gulf of Hor­muz (choke point for trade routes) with the USA, which strait fur­ther the explos­ive atmosphere.

The Secur­ity Coun­cil has been busy with Iran case since 2005. Up to present, Iran has received six res­ol­u­tions con­cern­ing its nuc­lear activ­ity. What­so­ever none of them did even scratch Iran, which undis­turbed con­tin­ued its activ­ity. More spe­cific­ally the invest­ig­a­tions of IAEA did not let experts abso­lutely tran­quil­ized about safe­guard imple­ment­a­tion issues, exper­i­ments of explos­ive mater­i­als and absten­tion from inter­view­ing of some sci­ent­ists. Things got worse when Tehran failed to com­ply with Secur­ity Council’s work plan and kept on enrich­ing uranium (basic com­pon­ent for nuc­lear weapons).

Did the EU take the right decision?

The pos­i­tion of the EU is in line with that of the Secur­ity Coun­cil. This comes not as a sur­prise since Bri­tain and France belong to the Per­man­ent Five (P5) and Ger­many is the 6th addi­tional non-member. All 27 mem­ber states agreed in the latest For­eign Affairs Coun­cil to impose a list of sanc­tions, includ­ing freez­ing assets of the Ira­nian Cent­ral Bank in the EU, stop pre­cious stones and metals trade and set travel ban on Ira­nian indi­vidu­als and com­pan­ies linked to Iran’s nuc­lear pro­gram. As for the burn­ing issue, crude and pet­ro­leum products, the imports have been banned, save for the already con­cluded con­tracts, which can be executed until July 2012.

Fact is the depend­ence of many European coun­tries on Ira­nian oil, so cut­ting up oil sup­ply could even­tu­ally affect them more than Iran. Namely Italy, Greece and Spain are heav­ily depend­ent on Ira­nian crude. Con­sid­er­ing the tough times for  the euro-zone, this could be an addi­tional prob­lem. In num­bers, Europe is import­ing aver­agely 865,000 bar­rels from Iran accord­ing to Organ­iz­a­tion of the Pet­ro­leum Export­ing Coun­tries (OPEC). Someone could say the gap could appar­ently be covered by Rus­sia or Nor­way. But taken the cheap trade via Medi­ter­ranean, Rus­sia seems unprof­it­able and Nor­way can­not imme­di­ately double its pro­duc­tion. Cut­ting off oil sup­ply would def­in­itely increase oil price, hinder eco­nomic growth and could stiffen bilat­eral rela­tions of the EU-Iran in the long term.

Apart from that Iran could likely cover the export defi­cit by feed­ing other “hungry” eco­nom­ies like China, India, Japan and South Korea. China and India have already stated their will­ing­ness to increase imports with a small treat though, bet­ter prices. Addi­tion­ally, the chief exec­ut­ive of France’s Total SA, Chris­tophe de Mar­gerie stated “I don’t think that it will have a major impact on Iran. After a period of time, the oil mar­ket will adapt and, the part [of Iran’s oil] which is not sold to the OECD will be sold else­where, prob­ably to the Asian markets”.

May 2012

Keep the date. A review of the meas­ures relat­ing to oil and pet­ro­leum products will take place by the end of spring. As such the EU has a second chance to redefine its pos­i­tion and divide the cards on the nego­ti­ations table, hope­fully. Using dip­lomacy, nego­ti­ations and pro­act­ive “dia­log” more can be achieved than lost. Hand­ling the situ­ation with threats and pun­ish­ments makes the oppos­ite side more and more stub­born. Except for that, as the case of Iraq showed, eco­nomic sanc­tions do not always pro­duce the con­sequences inten­ded and often dam­age the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, rather than the gov­ern­ment or the oil-privileged minor­ity. Last but not least there is a small dif­fer­ence com­par­ing to the former (failed) times of try­ing to dis­cip­line Iran. Now Iran is under some more ser­i­ous pres­sure, since trade with Far East might not work with the best terms.

For fur­ther read­ing visit the fol­low­ing links:

Global Policy Forum :

Hand­book on nuc­lear law by IAEA :