ODVV interview: Ordinary citizens pay the price...
The imposition of new sanctions against Iran by the United States after the de-certification of the Iran nuclear deal by the U.S. President Donald Trump is being widely debated these days. These sanctions are mostly controversial because of the highly detrimental impact they leave on the lives of the ordinary citizens in Iran while they don't have the endorsement of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union.
The critics of the sanctions argue that they make it impossible for Iran to import food, medicine and other humanitarian goods, lead to the impoverishment of average citizens by debilitating Iran's currency rial, reduce the purchasing power of the Iranians and at the same time violate the UN Security Council resolution 2231.
A distinguished American scholar and peace activist told the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence that the withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly referred to as the Iran deal, was unjustifiable and they will be only the ordinary citizens who pay the price for the U.S. economic pressure against the country.
Prof. David Cortright said he feels Iranians should be very angry and puzzled that their country is subject to new sanctions by the United States while the government has complied with its commitments under the nuclear deal signed in July 2015.
"[T]he average person in Iran is not responsible for the national policy. And in any case, the government of Iran has fully complied with the [nuclear] agreement. So, I am sure that people in Iran must feel very puzzled and, frankly, they should be angry that the U.S. is taking this kind of action even though their government has fully complied with the terms of the agreement," he said.
David Cortright is the Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and Chair of the Board of the Fourth Freedom Forum. He has published several books and written extensively about nonviolent social change, nuclear disarmament and multilateral sanctions.
In this interview with ODVV, Prof. Cortright shared his views about the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and the human cost of the U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Q: The U.S. President Donald Trump de-certified the Iran nuclear deal under the pretext that it was a flawed agreement and didn't contain Iran's nuclear capability, and imposed harsh economic sanctions against Iran. The IAEA had confirmed Iran's compliance with the terms of the agreement 11 times before Trump pulled out of the JCPOA. Was Trump's decision justifiable?
A: Well, I don't believe there is a justification for the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and actually I believe now there have been twelve reports from the IAEA verifying that Iran is indeed complying fully with the terms of the agreement. And those terms mean that the Iranian nuclear program has now been placed under limitations and there are international monitors able to verify that the Iranian nuclear program is for peaceful purposes at the moment, and that Iran has complied with the agreement in terms of reducing its enrichment capacity and shipping much of its highly enriched uranium out of the country and closing production reactors. So, it’s really quite a remarkable record of compliance with the agreement. Iran's cooperation is a remarkable record of compliance with the agreement. So, there's no basis for the administration's claim that the agreement is not working or that Iran's threat is growing. That's completely false. There is no basis in the facts or in the actual policies of Iran that would justify the actions that U.S. is taking.
Q: New sanctions have been imposed on Iran by the United States, but this time, unlike what happened under President Obama, the UN Security Council and the European Union do not agree with the United States on the sanctions and have not stipulated any punitive measures against Iran. Does the unilateralism of the United States isolate this country?
A: Yes, I think very much. You make a good point. The UN Security Council supported the agreement and viewed it as a significant success of the use of diplomacy in combination with sanctions and with the offer to lift sanctions. That was a key part of the diplomatic agreement. So the UN is not supporting this. The European Union was also an active participant in the previous negotiation and supported the JCPOA; they have declared their opposition to the U.S action and they’re trying as best as they can to maintain financial connections with Iran to try to avoid the secondary sanctions that U.S. is imposing on many financial institutions. The European Union is strongly opposed; some of the major trading countries in the world like China and India are opposed to the U.S actions. Russia is opposed. So the U.S is very isolated in this policy that it’s undertaking and it's actually undermining the U.S. geopolitical position, because it means that the United States is turning its back on its partners in the previous arrangement. The UN Security Council, the European Union, Russia, China and other countries supported the JCPOA. Now the U.S has pulled out unilaterally and it's rejecting the partnership that it had with other countries and other regional organizations and with the world community and the United Nations.
Q: What's your view on the human cost of the U.S. sanctions and their impact on the livelihoods of ordinary, innocent civilians?
A: Yes, the sanctions are primarily focused on financial measures but when you make it difficult to finance trade, it means that the overall sanctions have an effect on everyone because you can't important necessary goods, exports become more difficult. And there are reports – there was an article this week, I think it was in the New York Times – that some families are having difficulty being able to purchase pharmaceutical products and specialized drugs. So, there's definitely a price that the ordinary person pays when these kinds of broad commercial economic sanctions are imposed as we're seeing in Iran. And it makes no sense, whatsoever. I mean, the average person in Iran is not responsible for the national policy. And in any case, the government of Iran has fully complied with the agreement. So, I am sure that people in Iran must feel very puzzled and, frankly, they should be angry that the U.S. is taking this kind of action even though their government has fully complied with the terms of the agreement. It makes no sense. It's inhumane and, frankly, I would say immoral to impose a cost on the ordinary citizens of Iran for this kind of action that was taken by the U.S. government. And that has no justification in terms of policy or international legal support.
Q: The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent interview that foodstuff and medicine are exempt from the U.S. sanctions. Is his statement realistic given that different international companies refrain from doing business with Iran and it is cut off from the international financial and banking system and is not able to do transactions with foreign firms? Do you think what he said is close to reality?
A: Not really! In the U.S. law, pharmaceuticals and other necessary humanitarian goods are exempted from the sanctions, but if you can't pay for them, it doesn’t matter. And if you cut off access to financing and prevent other institutions from doing banking arrangements with Iranian financial institutions, then the flow of funds and the ability to pay for pharmaceuticals diminishes. And of course, this is especially in relationship to hard currency; euros and dollars are directly affected by these financial measures and often these goods are manufactured in Europe or North America. And so it becomes almost impossible for the consumers, for citizens and for local hospitals and other facilities to purchase these goods. So to cut off the money supply, whether you have an exemption or not, is less relevant because you make it impossible to purchase the goods.
Q: Why do you think the U.S. president placed sanctions on Iran's aviation sector and banned the sale of new aircraft to Iran by Airbus and Boeing? This is directly related to the health and security of civilians who want to travel safely. What's President Trump's logic in including aviation in the new sanctions while the JCPOA had removed those sanctions?
A: Yeah, there's no logic, frankly, but other than one of just direct, open hostility towards Iran as a country. But you're right that because of the previous sanctions, it's been difficult for Iran to modernize and improve its aviation fleet and to get spare parts and the kind of technologies that are necessary to maintain aviation safety. So these measures could have a negative effect on the safety and the ability of people to fly and have transportation options. And if you ask for logic, again there's no logic! It's not surprise, I'm sure, for you to know that there's a very strong hostility toward Iran in U.S. foreign policy, also in Israeli foreign policy and that Israeli influence is affecting the American policy. And so, it’s a very disturbing trend, I think, that so many in the U.S. political establishment have a hostile view toward Iran and don't recognize what the country is really all about and don't see that there are many ways in which the U.S. and Iran could cooperate and have similar interests. Like all states in the world, we have separate interests but we also have some common interests and it's complete foolishness, in my view, for the U.S. to take this hostile view towards Iran. And it suggests, frankly, that the U.S. seems to have a view towards Iran that it's an enemy state and we view it as an enemy; and it's a very dangerous policy and, as I mentioned, it's also contrary to our own national interests and of course has very negative social, economic and humanitarian effects in Iran.
Q: Following a lawsuit filed by Iran at the International Court of Justice, the Hague-based court ruled that the U.S. sanctions against Iran are not legitimate and ordered the United States to lift restrictions on humanitarian trade, food, medicine and civil aviation. The United States reacted by saying categorically that it will ignore the ruling. Won't the response by the United States set a bad precedent for other countries to ignore international law and opt for unilateralism in their policies?
A: Yeah, it’s a very good point. The U.S has rejected the international court's decision. It's part of a pattern with this administration and, frankly, other U.S. governments to be very unilateral in our policies, to ignore the principles and rulings of international law and to reject the many opportunities and institutional arrangements that exits for cooperation. My view and I think social science and history tell us that nations are much safer and more able to protect their interests and improve their well-being through cooperation with other states. International cooperation is the key to progress and to peace, and international cooperation is embodied in institutions, like the United Nations, and in legal principles such as standards of international law and judicial bodies like the ICJ. So, to reject those rulings and those courts is a dangerous and, I think, counter-productive policy for the United Sates and for other countries. And when the U.S. takes such action, it sets a precedent for other states. So you can see that other countries will also ignore international law and reject the rulings of international tribunals and act unilaterally; and hat type of behavior is, I think, dangerous and a threat to international peace and prosperity.
Q: Idriss Jazairy, the UN special rapporteur on the effect of sanctions on human rights said in a recent statement that sanctions that cross the national boundaries and "seek to block a country’s trade altogether, amount to economic warfare against civilians." What do you think about the statement made by the UN special rapporteur?
A: Yeah, I think these kinds of broad economic sanctions that have the effect of cutting off financing and restricting the ability of consumers and citizens to purchase goods, have safe transportation, aviation, to access pharmaceuticals, etc. are contrary to international cooperation and good will. Sanctions should be used sparingly; they should be always focused on targeted, limited measures. If there's a specific problem, you try to put the sanctions on that problem, like nuclear proliferation. But such measures as broad trade sanctions, cutting off the financing for an economy go beyond what is appropriate or morally legitimate in the use of sanctions. Sanctions can be an effective tool for international diplomacy, and we saw with the JCPOA, the combination of sanctions plus a diplomatic policy was helpful in bringing about an agreement. But these measures should always be very limited, in my view, and ideally sanctions should be imposed internationally through the authority of the UN Security Council or with large regional organizations like the European Union. But unilateral measures such as the ones U.S. has imposed, I think are illegitimate and are counter-productive for international security.
Q: Do you believe that the United Nations has a jurisdiction to prevent the member states from engaging in such economic warfare through imposing unilateral sanctions?
A: Well, unfortunately, the UN Security Council is dominated by the U.S. and the other permanent five. So, perhaps, legally it might be possible for the Security Council. Theoretically, it could decide that United States is violating international law and take action against the United States. You know, that's theoretically possible but, politically, it's impossible because we have the permanent members who have veto authority. So, the UN is limited institutionally and structurally in what it can do when a powerful state chooses to violate the principles of international law. The General Assembly has fewer restrictions in this regard and it can issue rulings, but it doesn’t have the authority to act in matters of security the way that the Security Council does. So, the UN is very important but, as I said, institutionally it's limited in what it can do. And it's really up to states individually or states in regional organizations to take the lead and to act to try to prevent the U.S. from taking this sort of action. This is what the European Union is trying to do, I think, and I believe it’s very proper and appropriate, and it provides a balancing in international relations against the U.S. The United States has so much power but the European Union has great economic power as well; and China has great economic power. And when these states disagree with the U.S. and continue their trade with Iran, for example, then that's I think a very helpful and positive development in international relations that can help to balance against the unjust and dangerous policies of the U.S. in this case of Iran.
By: Kourosh Ziabari