U.N. Tries Another Round Of Sanctions Against Iran

The U.N. Security Council adopted new sanctions against Iran on Wednesday. Stanford University analyst Abbas Milani talks to Steve Inskeep about the sanctions, yet another attempt to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And Im Deborah Amos.

Let's follow up, now, on the latest United Nations' sanctions on Iran. They're intended to persuade Iran to abandon any effort to build nuclear weapons.

INSKEEP: And the biggest question here is whether they can work. Iran, by the way, is now threatening to reduce - not increase - it's dealings with nuclear inspectors.

We'll talk about that with Abbas Milani. He is director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University. He's in our studios this morning. Welcome to the program.

Professor ABBAS MILANI (Director, Iran Studies, Stanford University): Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And it's good to see you again. The U.N. ambassador - the American Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, called these the most significant of all the resolutions that have imposed sanctions. But what do these sanctions do, if anything, that past sanctions have not - against Iran?

Prof. MILANI: I think, in practical terms, they do very little that is more substantive, except that they have more companies from the IRGC, the Revolutionary Guard, that are on that list. There is a list of 40 companies, one individual - the list has not yet been published, but there are rumors that some of the most important Revolutionary Guard companies are on the list and banned.

INSKEEP: Let's make that we're clear in what we're talking about here. The Revolutionary Guard is basically a military force in Iran, but it's also an economic force. And you're saying these sanctions are increasingly targeting companies associated with this particular military force in Iran thats very influential.

Prof. MILANI: Precisely. I mean I think one of the goals that the West was trying to achieve was to bring sanctions that pressure the regime but do not hurt the Iranian people. Because the calculus is that ultimately the Iranian people, with their democratic movement, are going to be the sole solution to this nuclear problem.

INSKEEP: One quick question. Haven't Iranians succeeded, to some degree, in evading these sanctions in the past; you name a company and they set up a shell company and move around the sanctions?

Prof. MILANI: They have done it very well in the past. They have created, by one account, more than 10,000 front companies in Tabas(ph) alone. But one minor difference - or maybe more than minor difference - that in the past they had a lot of money to throw around with the price of oil being above a hundred. Now, with the price of oil being what it is, they are basically hardly making ends meet. So they will have less money to (unintelligible).

AMOS: The vote at the U.N. in itself was interesting. China and Russia both voted with the United States. Did you expect that?

Prof. MILANI: I did expect that because the Chinese and the Russians - more the Russians, I think - had been giving signals that they're unhappy about the way the Iranian regime was behaving. Mr. Putin's and Mr. Medvedev's advisors - top advisors had said some rather strong words about Ahmadinejad and about how you can't run a country by political opportunism alone. And that, to me, was a clear hint.

Moreover, I think you have to remember that the entire Middle East trade, for China, is less than four percent of China's overall trade.

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning that the Chinese can impose these sanctions, can follow these sanctions without great harm to themselves. Is that what you're saying?

Prof. MILANI: Yeah, thats one side of it. The other side of it is that they need to worry about that 96 percent. If they get on the wrong side of Europe, the wrong side of the United States, they have much more to lose than that oil from Iran.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that I understand what you're telling us here though. Because you're suggesting that it looks China has motivations actually to get tough on Iran. Russia indicates that it's going to get tough Iran. Some of these companies have been targeted.

But at the beginning, you said you weren't sure that these sanctions go much farther beyond sanctions in the past. Are these going to work?

Prof. MILANI: If the purpose is to stop Iran from enriching uranium, I dont think so. I think Iran is already beyond the point of no return. But I think it will inflict rather serious symbolic political harm on the regime. And that's, I think, more anything else, what the intent was.

China - I did say that China did go along. But China has a very complicated game it needs to play.

INSKEEP: Okay. Dr. Milani, thanks very much.

AMOS: That's Abbas Milani, he's the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University.

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