Iran: It’s Not About Nuclear Weapons PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Monday, 02 December 2013 11:24

If you want to understand the U.S.-Iran controversy, know this: It is not about nuclear weapons.

You’re thinking: Of course it’s about nuclear weapons. Everyone says so.

Well, not everyone does. But it isn’t a numbers game. As William O. Beeman points out in the Huffington Post:

“There is a strange irony in President Obama’s announcement of the temporary agreement. He mentioned the term ‘nuclear weapon’ multiple times in his announcement, implying that Iran was on a path to develop such a weapon. One wonders if he actually believes this or if his repeated implied accusation was a rhetorical device designed to placate his hard-line critics.

“The president must know by this time that there is no evidence that Iran has or ever had a nuclear-weapons program. Every relevant intelligence agency in the world has verified this fact for more than a decade. U.S. National Intelligence Estimates that were made public in 2007 and 2011 underscored this. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also consistently asserted that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for any military purpose.

“Even Israeli intelligence analysts agree that Iran is ‘not a danger’ to Israel.”

Ironically, when critics of the interim agreement say Iran gave up little, they are right. “By yielding to the P5+1 demands, in essence Iran has allowed itself to be persuaded to stop temporarily doing what it never intended to do – make a nuclear weapon,” Beeman writes. “The United States and its allies ... made the improbable leap that having enriched uranium would immediately lead to a nuclear weapon. This is an immense mistake – so large that one must suspect that it is essentially hyped for public consumption.”

In return for agreeing to stop doing what it had no intention of doing, Iran will get the slightest relief from the economic sanctions that inflict so much suffering on the people.

There’s another irony. The reactionaries on all sides – including in the U.S. Congress – oppose rapprochement between Iran and the United States for some of the same reasons.

Look at the leading opponents of the agreement: Israel and Saudi Arabia. They are among the U.S. government’s closest allies in the Middle East. For overlapping reasons, both would hate to see the 34-year-old cold war between the United States and Iran come to an end.

Saudi Arabia, which is well-equipped militarily by the United States, is an Arab Sunni Muslim kingdom. Iran is the large, influential Persian state dominated by the other side in the Islamic schism: Shiism. (What Iran calls the Persian Gulf, Arabs call the Arabian Gulf.) Iran was a U.S. client-state until 1979, when the Islamic Revolution overthrew the repressive shah, whom the U.S. government had restored to power after ousting a democratic regime in 1953. Saudi Arabia, which enjoys protection under America’s nuclear umbrella, does not want to see Iran back in the good graces of the United States, since it would diminish its prominence in the Middle East.

Israel is the world’s largest recipient of U.S. military armaments and is a nuclear power and thus the most potent country in the region. It has used its might to subjugate the Palestinians – systematically stealing their land – and intimidate its neighbors, for example, by periodically invading Lebanon. Its leadership needs to manufacture enemies to distract the world from its inhumane policies, which the U.S. government, pushed by Israel’s lobby, enables. Thus the Iranians, who have made repeated peace overtures, are portrayed as an “existential threat,” which is absurd: Even if one were to make all the fantastic assumptions required to see Iran with a nuclear weapon, what good would it be against Israel, which has hundreds of nukes, some of them on invulnerable submarines?

Yoel Guzansky, a former member of Israel’s National Security Council, revealed much when he condemned the interim agreement as giving “Iran ... a signature that it’s a legitimate country.” How hypocritical.

The Iranian people, which includes a large, educated middle class, would welcome friendship with America. Both they and the American people would prosper from trade, tourism, and other personal contact.

As a bonus, such friendship would inevitably weaken Iran’s theocracy – which is why the hardliners on all sides are determined to prevent it.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation ( in Fairfax, Virginia.

Understanding Sanctions Against Iran

Excerpts from the April 24, 2013, Iran Sanctions Congressional Research Service Report by Kenneth Katzman (

Iran has found ways to mitigate the economic and political effects of sanctions. Government-linked entities are creating front companies and making increased use of barter trade. Iranian traders are using informal banking exchange mechanisms and, benefiting from the fall in the value of Iran’s currency, sharply increasing non-oil exports such as agricultural goods, minerals, and industrial goods. Affluent Iranians are investing in hard assets such as real estate.

Trigger Added by Executive Order 13622 of July 30, 2012: Purchasing of Iranian Crude Oil and Petrochemical Products and Provision of Precious Metals

On July 30, 2012, President Obama issued Executive Order 13622, which, as discussed, does not amend ISA. The order applies virtually all of the ISA sanctions – and restrictions on foreign banks – to entities that the President determines have:

• purchased oil or other petroleum products from Iran,

• conducted transactions with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) or Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), or

• purchased petrochemical products from Iran.

Sanctions do not apply if the parent country of the entity has received an exemption under Section 1245 of P.L. 112-81 – an exemption earned for “significantly reducing” oil purchases from Iran.

Section 5 of E.O. 13622 also blocks U.S.-based property of individuals or firms determined to have provided financial support to NIOC, NICO, or the Central Bank of Iran, or to have helped Iran purchase U.S. bank notes or precious metals – thereby affecting foreign firms that transfer gold or other precious metals to Iran in exchange for oil.

Excerpt From Nov 23, 2013 White House Press Secretary Fact Sheet: First Step Understandings Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program (

Putting Limited Relief in Perspective

In total, the approximately $7 billion in relief is a fraction of the costs that Iran will continue to incur during this first phase under the sanctions that will remain in place. The vast majority of Iran’s approximately $100 billion in foreign-exchange holdings are inaccessible or restricted by sanctions.

In the next six months, Iran’s crude oil sales cannot increase. Oil sanctions alone will result in approximately $30 billion in lost revenues to Iran – or roughly $5 billion per month – compared to what Iran earned in a six-month period in 2011, before these sanctions took effect. While Iran will be allowed access to $4.2 billion of its oil sales, nearly $15 billion of its revenues during this period will go into restricted overseas accounts. In summary, we expect the balance of Iran’s money in restricted accounts overseas will actually increase, not decrease, under the terms of this deal.

November 29, 2013, Statement by the Press Secretary on the Presidential Determination Pursuant to Section 1245(d)(4)(B) and (C) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (

Today the President made the determination required under section 1245(d)(4)(B) and (C) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 regarding the supply of petroleum and petroleum products from countries other than Iran.

The analysis contained in the Energy Information Administration’s report of October 31, 2013, indicates that global oil consumption has exceeded production in recent months, though trends stayed in line with seasonal patterns. International oil-supply disruptions grew but were largely offset by rising oil production from other countries, particularly from the United States and Saudi Arabia. While increased Saudi output reduced spare crude-production capacity, stable inventory levels and stable oil prices compared with the period a year ago indicate a well-supplied international crude market.

There currently appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to reduce significantly their purchases of Iranian oil, taking into account current estimates of demand, increased production by countries other than Iran, inventories of crude oil and petroleum products, and available spare production capacity. In this context, it is notable that many purchasers of Iranian crude oil continue to reduce, or have ceased altogether, their purchases from Iran.

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