The United States and Iran

It is now nearly three decades since the Unites States adopted the policy of dual containment of Iran and Iraq. While much has been written about the containment of Iraq, there has been very little in-depth analysis of this policy when it comes to Iran. In a book that is going to be released on March 31, 2008, entitled The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment (Routledge), I attempt to address this shortcoming by investigating when and why the US policy of containment of Iran came about, how it evolved, and where it stands today.[1] To the extent that Israel has been involved in US policy making, the study will also include the role that Israel has played in the containment of Iran. Also, since the fate of Iran has been inextricably linked to that of Iraq, occasionally the investigation will overlap with the containment of Iraq.

The policy of dual containment of Iran and Iraq originated during the Carter Administration, but it was not until the Clinton Administration that the expression “dual containment” became popular. Despite its widespread use, the meaning of the expression is not crystal clear; different individuals have had different interpretations of “containment” of Iran and Iraq. For some, it has meant keeping the two countries militarily, economically, and politically in check. This was the case with Iraq between 1990-when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and United Nations sanctions were imposed on Iraq-and 2003-when the US invaded Iraq for the second time and occupied the country. In the case of Iraq, it was hoped initially that economic pressures through extensive United Nations sanctions, as well as some limited military actions, would create discontent and lead to “regime change.” But since sanctions did not result in the overthrow of Hussein, Iraq was not exactly contained. The 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq showed that containment could go beyond sanctions and limited military operations; it could involve outright invasion of a country to achieve the desired goals.

To this day, the US military adventure in Iraq has not been successful, and the future of Iraq and its government remains uncertain. In this sense, some may argue that Iraq has not been contained. But a few might disagree with this conclusion. For these individuals Iraq has already been contained, since the country has been economically ruined, militarily shattered, and politically disintegrated. For decades to come, Iraq will not be able to rise from the ashes and challenge the US and Israel; and this, in the opinion of these individuals, is a successful containment. Such a view might appear to be too cynical to be held by anyone. But, as I have argued in my book, the attitude of many US and Israeli officials toward the Iran-Iraq war indicates that this view did actually exist. Some American and Israeli officials wished to see Iran and Iraq destroy one another in a costly and protracted war. They helped to prolong the war and make sure that neither side had a decisive victory. The horrendous eight-year war, which resulted in a massive loss of human life and severe economic losses, was therefore viewed as a kind of containment. The same view of containment seems to exist today among many so-called neoconservatives who, after pushing for the Iraq invasion, show no remorse for the resulting carnage and advocate bombing Iran.

Whatever the interpretation of the dual containment of Iran and Iraq, one aspect of this policy has been to use war, or threats of war, to bring about the desired change. Another has been to rely on sanctions. US unilateral sanctions against Iran started shortly after the 1979 Revolution and continued throughout the Iran-Iraq war. In this period many of the imposed sanctions were intended to prevent Iran from winning the war against Hussein’s Iraq. But it was also hoped that sanctions would bring about popular dissatisfaction in Iran and result in the overthrow of the new government. Such sanctions continued and became even more intensified after the Iran-Iraq war, particularly in the 1990s. Yet, even though these sanctions did harm the Iranian economy, they did not bring about the intended “regime change.” The failure was attributed to the unilateral nature of these sanctions, and therefore multilateral sanctions, imposed through the United Nations, were sought. So far three such sanctions have been passed against Iran. Whether these sanctions will have the desired results and, eventually, would do to Iran what has been done to Iraq is hard to predict. But it is even harder to make any predictions about the future without knowing the past. It was in the spirit of documenting the history, in order to better understand the present and the future, that The United States and Iran Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment was written. An outline of the book is as follows.

The origin of the dual containment policy, as mentioned above, goes back to the Carter Administration. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that individuals within the Carter Administration, contrary to their denials, gave Hussein the green light to invade Iran and assisted him after the invasion. It was hoped that the war would not only lead to the resolution of the so-called hostage crisis, but that it might lead to the overthrow of the Iranian government and the restoration of the old order, where the Shah of Iran maintained a symbiotic relationship with the US and Israel. However, assisting Hussein in his war against Iran did not mean that the US was planning to establish a long-term relationship with him. Befriending Hussein was temporary; and while the US was helping the Iraqi government, the Israelis were selling arms to Iran with the full knowledge of the US. Indeed, the Carter Administration itself was considering the possibility of providing Iran with military spare parts as well. This was the beginning of the policy of dual containment, when the US, playing the role of a double agent, tried to make sure that neither side would achieve a decisive victory in the Iran-Iraq war.

The dual containment policy continued in the 1980s under the Reagan and George H. W. Bush Administrations. But while the US assisted Hussein covertly during the Carter period, it did so overtly during the Reagan Administration, despite the official US policy of remaining neutral in the war. The support also became more vigorous. US officials tried to prevent Iran from winning the war against Hussein by providing him with intelligence, weapons, and extension of credit. They also established full diplomatic relations with Hussein’s government, lifted trade sanctions against Iraq, and imposed new economic sanctions against Iran. In addition, the Reagan Administration closed its eyes to the use of chemical weapons by Iraq in the war, and, indeed, supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical compounds that had multiple uses, including making poison gas. Subsequently, with the Iranian military victories, the US entered the war against Iran directly to assure that Hussein was not defeated. With this direct US intervention, in 1988 Iran was forced to accept a humiliating ceasefire, especially after the USS Vincennes affair. In the end, the Reagan Administration had managed by means of indirect and direct war to defeat Iran for all practical purposes and contain it. Yet the policy of dual containment demanded that not only Iran but also Iraq be emasculated as a potential challenger. Therefore, while helping Hussein, the US also sold arms to Iran, mostly with the help of the Israelis, in what came to be known as the “Iran-Contra scandal.” Furthermore, the US administration provided both Iran and Iraq with deliberately distorted or inaccurate intelligence data on the other’s capabilities. More importantly, with the end of the Iran-Iraq war-and the emergence of Iraq militarily stronger at the end of the war than at the beginning-the US turned its attention toward containing Iraq. This was accomplished through manufactured sensational news and incidents, as well as a sudden US interest in the “gross violation of international law” by Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. The final incident was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait after the US gave confusing messages to Hussein. Following this invasion, the US tried to contain Iraq by means of a war, UN economic sanctions, and limited military operations.

The US policy of the dual containment cannot be understood without understanding the role that Israel has played in it. Following the 1979 Revolution in Iran, which ended a cozy and symbiotic relation between the Jewish state and the Shah, Israel started a campaign against the new Iranian government. However, once the Iran-Iraq war started, Israel began to sell arms to Iran. This was not because Israel was against the US policy of dual containment and the devastation of Iran and Iraq in a costly and protracted war, but because Israel wished to see Iraq contained before Iran. As a result, while the US was aiding Iraq, Israel was selling arms to Iran, and, eventually, got the US to sell arms to Iran in the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. When put in historical context the Iran-Contra affair does not appear as an aberration or isolated incident. It was part of the policy of helping to contain both countries. At the end of the Iran-Iraq war, however, Israel, like the US, largely concentrated on containing Iraq. In so doing, Israel contributed greatly to the propaganda campaign against Saddam Hussein before Iraq was invaded by the US. After the imposition of UN sanctions against Iraq in 1990 and the first US invasion of Iraq, Israel turned its attention toward containing Iran. With the help of its lobby groups in the US, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel concentrated on strengthening US economic sanctions against Iran. In this pursuit, Martin Indyk, the head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an AIPAC affiliate, became instrumental. The meteoric rise of Martin Indyk to power in the Clinton Administration allowed him to carry on the policy of dual containment-which he took credit for devising-primarily by means of increasing sanctions against Iran. In this policy Iran was accused of three misbehaviors: sponsoring terrorism worldwide; opposing Middle East peace efforts; and developing weapons of

mass destruction. Once formulated, these alleged misbehaviors became the rationale for maintaining and strengthening US sanctions against Iran. Indeed, during the Clinton Administration Israeli lobby groups became the major underwriters of US foreign policy toward Iran.

Besides Martin Indyk there were other individuals in the Clinton Administration who helped develop the Iran sanctions policy. One such individual was Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who had a particular animosity toward Iran since his hostage negotiation days. This animosity came in handy for Indyk and the Israeli lobby groups in implementing their sanctions policy against Iran. But this was not all; there was also a competition between a predominantly Republican Congress and a Democratic Administration as to which was more hostile to Iran and thus faithful to Israel. In this competition, the role of Senator Alfonse D’Amato in trying to pass sanctions acts against Iran is examined in my book. One major act, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA)-which imposed secondary sanctions on foreign companies that would make new investments of at least $40 million in Iran-becomes a focus of my study. With the passage of ILSA, however, the US sanctions policy started to fall apart. Not only did many countries around the world defy it, the US corporate lobbies, too, began to organize to oppose various Israeli lobby groups. In this regard, I examine the role of some heavyweights that the corporate lobby brought forth to oppose the sanctions-such as two former national security advisors, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft-the formation of an umbrella lobby organization called USA*ENGAGE, various individuals or lobbyist groups working with the Iranian government who started to organize, and a number of US Congressmen who were lobbied by the corporations to oppose the passage of further unilateral sanctions against Iran. All this, as well as the appointment of a new Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who tilted more toward the corporate lobby, resulted in an incoherent and inconsistent US policy toward Iran at the end of the Clinton era, a policy that tried to reconcile the irreconcilable aims and interests of Israel and the US corporations. It is worth noting that during the Clinton Administration the Mujahedin-e-Khalq-e-Iran (MEK), an Iranian exile group, became a convenient tool in the hands of strange bedfellows-namely Iraq, the US, and Israel-in a campaign to overthrow the Iranian government. Even though in 1997, as a result of some shifts in US foreign policy, the US State Department put MEK officially on the list of terrorist organizations, the group operates relatively freely in the US to this day.

The end of the Clinton era ushered in a new phase in the US policy of containment of Iran. The 2000 US presidential election brought uncertainty concerning the future policies of the Bush Administration toward the Middle East in general and Iran in particular. The fact that the new administration was top heavy with former oil executives added to this uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the uncertainty, Israel correctly perceived that the policy would be made more by the neoconservative forces within the new administration-such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle-than anyone else, including those in the State Department. Wolfowitz and Perle-who were on the Board of Advisors of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an offshoot of AIPAC-had advocated, at least since 1992, the use of military force against Iraq. But Israel was more interested in containing Iran rather than Iraq and was hoping that the neoconservative forces, particularly those within the administration, would achieve that goal. The events of September 11, 2001 played a determining role in both containments. The neoconservative forces got what they had wished for when it came to invading Iraq. But as far as Iran was concerned, the initial reaction of the US State Department after 9/11 was to start a courtship dance with Iran, a dance that Israel, its lobby groups, and its neoconservative allies, in and out of the administration, watched with a great deal of trepidation. A concerted campaign was waged by Israeli officials, including Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, to end the dance. The US was warned by these officials not to cozy up to Iran. Such warnings, as well as the puzzling Karine-A affair, managed to end the US State Department’s attempt to approach Iran. The death of the rapprochement was made official by President Bush in his “axis of evil” speech on January 29, 2002, a speech in which Iran was accused, along with Iraq and North Korea, of aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction and exporting terror. In the end, Israel, its various lobby groups, and its neoconservative allies changed the direction of US policy toward Iran as conceived by the US State Department. A case had to be made as to why Iran should be targeted. Israel put forward a list of allegations against Iran that included everything from Iran’s involvement in the Karine-A affair to pursuing missiles capable of striking Israel with chemical and biological weapons, dispatching its Revolutionary Guards to foment anti-Israel activity in Lebanon, and being on schedule to develop a nuclear bomb by 2005. Yet even though Israel had made its case for targeting Iran, and wished to see Iran attacked before Iraq, it had to settle for second-best: wait until after the invasion of Iraq to contain Iran. Thus, in an interview with The Times (London) on November 5, 2002, Sharon stated that he considered Iran to be the “centre of world terror,” and “that as soon as an Iraq conflict is concluded, he will push for Iran to be at the top of the ‘to do’ list.”

How was Iran pushed to the top of the US’s “to do” list? As in the case of Iraq, Iran’s alleged development of weapons of mass destruction became the rallying point for targeting the country. The first step in the process came in late summer 2002, when, in a dramatic press conference, a representative of MEK revealed the construction of a uranium enrichment facility and a heavy water production plant in Iran, neither of which had been reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The actual source of the revelation appears to have been Israel, which passed the information to MEK. Once these constructions were disclosed, the US and Israel started to build a case for reporting Iran to the United Nations Security Council and for the imposition of sanctions. How the case proceeded is narrated in my book. Before that, however, the origin of Iran’s nuclear program is discussed. It is argued that the US and Israel had no problems with Iran’s nuclear program when the Shah of Iran was in power. Indeed, the US helped the Shah with nuclear technology and encouraged him to build nuclear power plants. Subsequently, the Shah signed an agreement to purchase two reactors from Germany to be installed at Bushehr. The construction of these power plants began in 1975, but after the 1979 Iranian Revolution the Germans left the country without completing the project. In 1995 Iran signed a formal agreement with Russia to finish the Bushehr reactor. But Russia continuously postponed the completion of the reactor and delivery of nuclear fuel. Given Russia’s foot-dragging, as well as the numerous US sanctions imposed on Iran, it appears that Iran had engaged in a number of nuclear-related activities not reported to the IAEA, including building the two structures that were disclosed by MEK. Even though, technically speaking, the construction of these facilities did not violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-to which Iran is a signatory-it provided the perfect excuse to the US and Israel to argue that Iran was clandestinely developing nuclear weapons. Such claims, however, were not new. They were heard as early as 1984, when a neoconservative argued that Iran might be only two years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. Following this claim there were numerous others concerning the impending development of nuclear weapons by Iran. Indeed, in the 1990s a number of sources associated with Israel claimed that Iran had already purchased three or four nuclear warheads from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. That allegation and subsequent assertions concerning Iran developing nuclear arsenals all proved to be false. But the guessing game continued well into the late 1990s and early 2000s. With each day passing and no nuclear weapons or even evidence of development of such weapons showing up, the ever-changing prediction of doomsday appeared to attract little attention until the revelation of the two unreported nuclear-related facilities in Iran. Once this revelation was made, Israel could push for Iran to be at the top of the US’s “to do” list.

The road was being paved to report Iran to the Security Council. The 2003 IAEA report mentioned certain failures by Iran to disclose information. It also encouraged Iran to sign the “Additional Protocol” to the IAEA Safeguards Agreements. But the report did not show any smoking gun and, therefore, was not the report that the US and Israel needed to contain Iran. Nevertheless, the report left a number of open questions that made the US and Israel hopeful about taking Iran before the Security Council. For example, why was Iran developing a facility to produce heavy water, building a uranium enrichment facility, manufacturing uranium metal, hesitant to allow IAEA inspectors visit an electric workshop and take environmental samples? The last question, in particular, made the US and Israel contend that Iran was hiding something, and this could be an indication of a nuclear weapons program. In the end, this allegation proved to be incorrect. However, such allegations continued to be made until Iran was reported to the Security Council. In addition to making false claims, the US and Israel intensified their psychological warfare against Iran, threatening a preemptive military strike on her nuclear facilities. Such threats made the Europeans, particularly France, Britain, and Germany (EU 3), worry and start negotiating with Iran in October of 2003 to sign the “Additional Protocol,” stop nuclear enrichment, and provide full disclosure of its nuclear program. The Iranian government capitulated and signed an agreement in December 2003, even though the Iranian parliament refused to ratify the “Additional Protocol.” The US and Israel, however, continued their pressure on Iran by making false claims and portraying Iran as a threat to Israel and the world at large. Pressure mounted in summer of 2004 to report Iran to the Security Council. The EU 3 made a last-ditch effort to stop Iran’s enrichment activities. The result was the November 2004 Paris Agreement, which asked Iran to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities voluntarily and temporarily in exchange for some vague and, for all practical purposes, undeliverable economic promises. The US gave this agreement guarded approval but made it clear that it was a kind of “good-cop, bad-cop arrangement,” where the Europeans and Americans were working together but playing different roles.

The US and Israel intensified their threats of a preemptive strike against Iran in 2005. By now the argument had changed from not allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons to not even tolerating Iran having knowledge of nuclear enrichment. At the same time there were reports that the US might support EU negotiations with Iran and accept the so-called carrot and stick approach. Even though this was no more than the bad cop joining the good cop, Israel and its lobby groups were opposed to any shift in US policy and waged a campaign against it. In Iran, too, there was opposition to the Paris Agreement, especially after the US gave the agreement its tacit blessing. The opposition became stronger with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran, a man who was demonized by a massive US and Israeli disinformation campaign as soon as he took office. After protesting that the Paris Agreement was turning a voluntary and temporary halt in uranium enrichment activities into a permanent freeze and that the EU had not kept its part of the bargain, Iran ended the agreement. The campaign to report Iran to the Security Council by the IAEA gained momentum and a resolution to this effect was passed; however, the question of the timing of when the matter would be referred to the Security Council was left open. A number of events speeded up the process of referral. One such event was Ahmadinejad quoting Ayatollah Khomeini as saying that the occupying regime of Jerusalem must disappear from the page of time. The statement was translated in both Israel and the US as “wipe Israel off the map,” and was used in a massive campaign to portray Iran as Nazi Germany and Ahmadinejad as another Hitler poised to commit a holocaust. Another was the claim by American intelligence officials that they had discovered a stolen laptop showing Iran’s attempt to design a nuclear warhead. The contents of the laptop were shown to IAEA inspectors, but, IAEA officials doubted the authenticity of the material, and believed that much of the intelligence provided by the US and other intelligence services had proved to be wrong. Numerous assertions, even though false, made any compromise solution impossible. In the end, a relentless effort by the US and Israel to bring Iran before the Security Council and impose UN sanctions against her paid off in early 2006. The IAEA was forced to issue an early update brief followed by a full report on Iran’s compliance with the earlier resolution. But even before the full report was issued, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany reached an agreement, and soon afterwards the US obtained the necessary vote to refer Iran to the Security Council. Iran, in turn, ended all voluntary cooperation with the IAEA.

Accusations and threats by US and Israel continued against Iran even after Iran’s referral to the Security Council. As the US allocated more funds to bringing “democracy” to Iran, AIPAC mounted another “largest ever policy conference” aimed at bringing about the harshest possible sanctions against Iran. Frantic efforts by those uneasy about imposing UN sanctions, including the Director General of the IAEA, failed as most US policy makers followed the lead of Israel and its allies in the US. The Security Council issued in late March 2006 a draft statement asking Iran to halt all enrichment activities, and ordered the Director General of the IAEA to report in 30 days on Iran’s compliance. This was not exactly the harsh resolution that the US and Israel were hoping for. The US pushed for the passage of a UN Chapter 7 resolution against Iran that could result in the use of military force against her. In this effort, parallels were continuously drawn between Iran and Nazi Germany and Ahmadinejad and Hitler. Iran’s alleged hidden nuclear programs were reported and talks of pre-emptive military attacks by either the US, Israel, or both were heard. In this atmosphere even the most outrageous tales would become credible news. One such story was an alleged new law in Iran that would force the Iranian Jewish population to wear yellow insignia. Even though the “news” proved to be a complete fabrication, it for some time and enabled many political figures around the world, particularly Americans, to condemn and demonize Iran. The US, however, still had to get the reluctant Russians and Chinese on board to impose sanctions against Iran. A new strategy was adopted: the US would join the EU 3 in negotiating with Iran if Iran halted all enrichment activities. The Bush Administration knew full well that this offer would not be accepted by Iran and was, indeed, worried about a possible positive response by Iran. The US gambit paid off, and the “carrot and stick” package offered was ultimately rejected by Iran. The US wielded more sticks, including financial sanctions to paralyze the Iranian banking system. Security Council Resolution 1696 was passed in July 2006, demanding that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and that the Director General of the IAEA give a report by the end of August 2006 on Iran’s compliance. If Iran did not comply, according to Resolution 1696, UN sanctions would be imposed. The stage was set for the imposition of the first set of UN sanctions against Iran.

The August 2006 IAEA report indicated that Iran was not complying with UN Resolution 1696. The report was followed by Iran’s adversaries calling for immediate imposition of sanctions. Any compromise offered, including a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran, was ruled out by the US and Israel. The US further tightened its financial sanctions against Iran, and Israel raised, once again, the specter of Iran becoming another Nazi Germany determined to commit another holocaust. The campaign to impose UN sanctions against Iran was beginning to bear fruit. Draft resolutions for such sanctions began to circulate in November 2006. War drums beat intensely and there was again talk of a possible military strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities. US pressure mounted for adopting a sanction resolution. The push resulted in Security Council Resolution 1737 in December of 2006, the first UN sanction resolution against Iran. The resolution demanded that Iran halt all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and suspend work on all heavy water-related projects. It asked all states to take the necessary measures to prevent the supply, sale, or transfer of all items, materials, equipment, goods, and technology which could contribute to Iran’s enrichment related, reprocessing, or heavy water-related activities, or to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems. It also asked all states to exercise vigilance regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of individuals engaged in Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems. In addition, the resolution provided a list of certain Iranians and asked all states to freeze their funds, other financial assets, and economic resources.

Moreover, the resolution established a sanctions committee to monitor Iran’s compliance with the resolution and collect information from countries about their trade with Iran. Finally, the resolution asked the Director General of the IAEA to provide a report in 60 days on Iran’s compliance. Resolution 1737 was the crown jewel of the US-Israeli policy of containment of Iran. More than a quarter of a century of US unilateral sanctions against Iran, many underwritten by forces close to Israel, had not contained Iran. Even though this resolution was too weak to contain Iran, it was hoped that future resolutions would do the job. Iran shrugged off the sanctions and reduced its cooperation with the IAEA. The US levied more accusations against Iran and engaged in more provocative acts. Israel continued to call Iran an existential threat. In early 2007 there were fears that a war with Iran might become inevitable. In the end, however, the threats of war were used to set the stage for the second round of UN sanctions against Iran.

After an IAEA report indicating Iran’s non-compliance with Resolution 1737, the US and Israel pushed for another resolution. The result was Security Council Resolution 1747 in March 2007, which extended previous sanctions. The resolution called upon all states to exercise vigilance and restraint regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of certain Iranians engaged in or associated with Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities. In addition, it provided another list of Iranian entities involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities and entities whose funds or assets shall be frozen. Among these was one of the largest banks in Iran. Resolution 1747 also stated that Iran shall not supply, sell, or transfer any arms or related materiel. Furthermore, it called upon all states to exercise vigilance and restraint in the supply, sale, or transfer of any battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles, or missile systems. Finally, the resolution asked all states and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans to the Iranian government. As in the previous case, the resolution asked the Director General of the IAEA to prepare a report within 60 days as to whether Iran had complied with the demands of Resolutions 1737 and 1747. Iranian officials were defiant and shrugged off the effect of the resolutions. Yet Resolutions 1737 and 1747 put great pressure on Iran economically and politically, setting the stage for further, and harsher, resolutions to follow.

The next Security Council sanction resolution against Iran did not materialize until nearly a year after Resolution 1747. On March 3, 2008, the Security Council passed its third sanction resolution against Iran, Resolution 1803.[2] The new resolution tightens two previously passed sanction acts by 1) asking states to exercise “vigilance and restraint” against a new set of Iranian nationals purportedly involved in “proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or the development of nuclear-weapon delivery systems”; 2) extending the freezing of the financial assets of persons or entities allegedly “supporting” the above mentioned activities; 3) calling upon states to “exercise vigilance over the activities of financial institutions in their territories with all banks domiciled in Iran, in particular with Bank Melli and Bank Saderat”; and 4) continuing to block the import and export of allegedly “sensitive nuclear material and equipment.”

Resolution 1803 also added a new provision to the previous sanction acts: it called upon states to “inspect cargo to and from Iran of aircraft and vessels owned or operated by Iran Air Cargo and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, provided ‘reasonable grounds’ existed to believe that the aircraft or vessel was transporting prohibited goods.” This new provision is one of the most dangerous provisions in all the resolutions that have been passed so far by the Security Council against Iran. The term “Reasonable grounds” is ambiguous. What is reasonable or unreasonable is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, theoretically, any adversary of Iran can now stop an Iranian aircraft or vessel to inspect it because it is “believed” there is “reasonable grounds” for such an inspection. If the Iranian vessel refuses inspection, all hell could break loose.

The new provision was probably one of the reasons why four non-permanent members of the Security Council, Indonesia, Libya, South Africa and Vietnam, tried in vain to stop, revise or at least slow down the passage of Resolution 1803. At the end, however, under pressure from the US and its allies, three of the four countries caved in and went along with the resolution. The fourth, Indonesia, abstained. US and its allies, who wanted unanimous vote against Iran in the Security Council, and wished for a much harsher resolution, declared victory nevertheless. But this was not enough. A day after, US, France and Britain tried to introduce another resolution against Iran at the meeting of the IAEA. This time, however, Russia, China and a number of countries belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) stopped the effort and argued that given the action by the Security Council a day earlier, a new resolution against Iran would be superfluous.

All this happened against the backdrop of two major reports undermining the necessity of passing a third sanction resolution against Iran. The first was the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report, entitled “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities.”[3] The “Key Judgments” portion of the report that was made public stated:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.

The report, of course, claimed that Iran had exerted “considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such [nuclear] weapons.” But the assertion that such efforts had been halted in 2003 not only removed the rationale for the US and Israel to wage a military campaign against Iran but it apparently slowed down the attempt to pass a third sanction act through the Security Council. Indeed, the resolution which passed recently was supposed to have been passed in early summer of 2007. But almost immediately after the conclusion of the NIE report became public the US government, as well as its allies, belittled or even dismissed its value, and, in so doing, made the passage of a new sanction resolution against Iran appear to be urgent.

The second report that undermined the urgency of the 3rd round of UN sanctions was the IAEA report.[4] The summary of the report stated that

The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. Iran has also responded to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on the issues raised in the context of the work plan, with the exception of the alleged studies. Iran has provided access to individuals in response to the Agency’s requests. Although direct access has not been provided to individuals said to be associated with the alleged studies, responses have been provided in writing to some of the Agency’s questions.

The summary also stated that the “Agency has been able to conclude that answers provided by Iran, in accordance with the work plan, are consistent with its findings.” But, the summary also added, the “one major remaining issue relevant to the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme is the alleged studies on the green salt project, high explosives testing and the missile re-entry vehicle.” According to the report, the documents related the allegations were only shown to Iran in February, as late as just a few days before the IAEA report. Iran the report states, “maintained that these allegations are baseless and that the data have been fabricated.” The Agency, the report stated, is examining the allegations and the statements provided by Iran.

The allegations apparently refer to the content of the “stolen laptop” that the US had in its possession and supposedly showed Iran’s plans to build a nuclear warhead.[5] The content of this mysterious laptop had resurfaced a number of times before and its authenticity questioned by a number of sources, including IAEA’s own experts. For example, on February 22, 2007, the Guardian reported that, according to “informed sources” at the IAEA, “most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors.” The report quoted an IAEA “diplomat” as saying: “Most of it has turned out to be incorrect. . . They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities.” The report then referred to the mysterious “stolen laptop” that the US had in its possession and supposedly showed Iran’s “plans to build a nuclear warhead.” As the report pointed out, in “July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.” But the report pointed out that IAEA officials doubted the authenticity of the laptop. “First of all,” the Guardian quoted one such official as saying, “if you have a clandestine programme, you don’t put it on laptops which can walk away [Moreover, the] data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you’d have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer.” A similar report appeared on February 25, 2007, in the Los Angeles Times under the heading “U.N. Calls U.S. Data on Iran’s Nuclear Aims Unreliable.” The report quoted a “senior diplomat at the IAEA” as saying: “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us [by way of the CIA and other Western spy services] has proved to be wrong.” This report, too, pointed out that some IAEA officials doubted the authenticity of the laptop story.

Had IAEA officials changed their minds? Was there more to this report than had been divulged before? Or was the intense pressure exerted on the IAEA by the US and its allies, including repeated calls by the US and Israel to remove the IAEA Director, Dr. ElBaradei, resulted in the IAEA changing its position about the authenticity of the allegations? Given the number of false claims made by the US and its allies-which I have documented in my book-and given the intense pressure that the IAEA has been under to produce results agreeable to Iran’s adversaries, one cannot help but to suspect that story of the mysterious laptop might be another fabrication.

Whatever the nature of the US allegations, one thing is certain: even if the threat of military attack against Iran by the US, Israel or both has subsided for the time being, sanctioning of Iran has not. US unilateral sanctions, as well UN multilateral sanctions, are being intensified. Iran is clearly feeling the pain of numerous sanctions. It is, however, uncertain whether this pain is sufficient for Iran to relinquish its “inalienable right” to “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination,” as guaranteed under Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The fact that after three rounds of UN sanctions Iran is still cooperating with the IAEA shows that Iran is bending under the pressure. But even if Iran does forfeit its right and capitulates, it is uncertain whether the US and Israel would stop their attempts to contain Iran. If containment means the destruction of any country that stands in the way of US and Israel, the fate of Iran might be similar to that of Iraq; ultimately an excuse will be found to do to Iran what was done to Iraq. The advocates of the dual containment policy, particularly those who had argued that Iran should be contained before Iraq, have been relentless. They will not stop until they achieve the ultimate containment of Iran.

SASAN FAYAZMANESH is chair of the Department of Economics at California State University, Fresno. He can be reached at:


[1] This essay is based on the Introduction of my book:

[2] The text of Resolution 1803 is available at:

[3] The text of the report is available at:

[4] The text of the report is available at:

[5] For more details about the “laptop” see my book, The United States and Iran, and a recent article by Gareth Porter, “Iran Nuke Laptop Data Came from Terror Group,” February 29, 2008:







Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno, and is the author of Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” He can be reached at: