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Behind the Sanctions Against Iran

RACHEL MARTIN: Did you like how I said A-Rod?


That was so sporty of you, Rachel.



We're going to call you Sporty Spice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: And you totally nailed Terry Francona's last name.

MARTIN: Thank you.


BURBANK: Pretty good.

MARTIN: Not bad.

BURBANK: Pretty good stuff. Well, aside from the World Series, a big story yesterday - at least on TV on the Sunday talk shows - was Iran, specifically if the new sanctions announced last week by the U.S. are going to work, if this World-War-III comment that the president made is helping or hurting the situation.

The Bush administration says that these sanctions, which will target Iran's military - that's a first, by the way - and also target three of its largest banks, the Bush administration says this is the best way to ensure that things get resolved without a full-on war. Opponents of the idea point out that the U.S. had all kinds of sanctions against Iraq which led to war. And we're wondering, do sanctions actually work?

Well, David Cortright is here to talk to us about it. He's author of "Sanctions and the Search for Security," and he's a research fellow at Notre Dame.

Hi, David.

Dr. DAVID CORTRIGHT (Research Fellow, Notre Dame; Author, "Sanctions and the Search for Security: Challenges to U.N. Actions"): Good morning, Luke. How are you?

BURBANK: Great. Thanks for coming on the show. The thing that seems to be unique about these sanctions are that it actually target - they target a section of Iran's military. How does that even work, exactly?

Dr. CORTRIGHT: Well, they tried to impose asset freezes on their - any finances that they may have in our country. There's a ban on their travel, flight ban diplomatic sanctions, a whole range of targeted measures that have been in place, actually, for a number of years against other Iranian officials, are now being imposed against these military officers as part of the revolutionary brigades. Yeah.

BURBANK: They're also sanctioning three big banks in Iran. Do you think the rest of the world's going to go along with that?

Dr. CORTRIGHT: Well, not really. I mean, they're unilateral measures, but they do have a broader global impact, because when the United States puts financial sanctions on these major banks, it creates uncertainty among other large banks in terms of possible investment risk, financial risk. And we've already seen over the last few months that these increasing measures on Iranian financial institutions are prompting some of the big banks in Europe to scale back their investments, their loans and credits to Iranian institutions. So they are having a global impact, a kind of a ripple impact among other major financial institutions.

BURBANK: Can you think of an instance or two where sanctions have actually worked?

Dr. CORTRIGHT: Oh, yes. Over the last two decades when sanctions have been used rather broadly. There've been a number of cases where sanctions have had a significant impact. Right now, we're seeing the impact of sanctions in Liberia. It's not been on the radar screen of many international reporters, but Liberia is going through a transition now. The Charles Taylor days are over. There's a democratic government.

And the sanctions that were imposed by the U.N. and the U.S. and the European Union are being gradually lifted, but in a manner that's designed to facilitate the transition of Liberia from the wars and horrors of the Charles Taylor era to the new democratic regime that exists now. So, for example, they had sanctions on diamonds - you remember the whole business about blood diamonds.

BURBANK: Right. Kanye West. I'm sure you're a fan.

Dr. CORTRIGHT: Now, there is a…

BURBANK: Or not.

Dr. CORTRIGHT: Now, there's a new sort certification system in place, whereby the diamonds that are coming out are certified that is not related to conflict. They are being used solely for the purpose of helping the legitimate government and economy of Liberia. And the U.N. has helped the government, the new government of Liberia with that transition. Same thing with their timber exports.

So here is a case where sanctions were imposed. Taylor was driven out. A new democratic government has come in and this process of imposing and then lifting sanctions has helped that process.

BURBANK: Well, what makes a place like Liberia work for sanctions, and then you've got Cuba, which, you know, is this isolated island nation, and Fidel Castro is still in some form or another running that place, despite all of the U.S.'s best efforts?

Dr. CORTRIGHT: It's one word: multilateral. The sanctions against Liberia were truly multilateral, where you had the whole world community participating - the entire U.N., the European Union, the U.S. and other major players. In the case of Cuba, it's unilateral U.S. sanctions. The rest of the world does not cooperate. Most of the world thinks it's a foolish and unproductive policy. So Cuba can buy whatever it wants from Europe and any other part of the world, and these sanctions against Cuba really have had no impact over more than 40 years.

BURBANK: Well, if you're saying that the key is the U.S. has to have buy-in from other countries - well, talking about Iran again, one of the things that these other countries have said, that the U.S. have been trying to persuade to join in these measures, they said, we want to see these big reports that are coming out, one of them by Mohammad al-Baradai. And I see him this weekend, basically telling President Bush to tone it down a little bit.

Dr. CORTRIGHT: Yeah. And it's a real problem. I mean, with the Iran diplomacy, I think the Bush administration has had amazing success in getting the Security Council, the U.N. Security Council to adopt two sanctions measures, again targeted measures against some of the senior military officials. And this is despite the opposition of Russia and China to broader measures, but they did support these two previous rounds of sanctions. That could be jeopardized if the U.S. pushes too hard with these unilateral measures.

And al-Baradai, as you mentioned, is doing this report now on Iran. He's going to be coming back to the Security Council at the end of the year, and most other governments have said let's wait to see. If Iran is actually beginning to cooperate more substantially with the Atomic Energy Agency, that would be a signal that the sanctions are starting to work, and maybe we should ease up on additional pressure to give more time for this cooperation to develop.

So that's really what al-Baradai is concerned about. And you've seen similar reports, similar concerns expressed in Russia and some of the European countries pushing too hard on these unilateral measures against Iran, especially now while al-Baradai is doing this report, in the view of many of observers is a bit over the top and may jeopardize the cooperation we've gained over the previous couple of years.

STEWART: Hey, David, it's Alison. Let me - can I go back to your first answer? You said something and I just want to follow up on it, because I wasn't really clear. You mentioned that imposing these sanctions against Iran's military will put a bar on their travel and the like. I don't really understand how that works.

Dr. CORTRIGHT: Well, they have travel bans and visa bans, so they designate a certain number of individuals, and in this case, the companies that the Iranian military leaders control. And now those individuals and those companies are on a list, and those people who are on - entities are not allowed to travel to the U.S., and there's a ban on their travel. And any financial assets they may have are frozen by the U.S. government, and banks in the U.S. are required to freeze them.

BURBANK: David, just very quickly. As we go here, I just want to ask, these sanctions that were announced last week, in your opinion, do they make war with Iran more or less likely?

Dr. CORTRIGHT: I'm concerned they may make it more likely, because they are ratcheting up the pressure at a time when most of the world has said let's allow that the diplomatic process to work before we impose additional measures. And, very importantly, they risk fracturing the diplomatic coalition that we've put together over the last year or two for a united, international pressure on Iran.

BURBANK: Well, listen, David, I just got to stop you there because we're out of time. But I do appreciate you coming on, and we'll have to have you on in the future to kind of see how this stuff shakes out.

Dr. CORTRIGHT: Okay. Thanks, Luke. Thanks, Alison.

BURBANK: Thank you.


BURBANK: David Cortright, author of "Sanctions and the Search for Security." He's also a scholar at the University of Notre Dame.

STEWART: Coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT: talking a little sports. It's a good time to be from Boston, the Patriots crush the opposition, the Sox sweep the Series. Maybe A-Rod'll go play for them. That's all coming up. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.