Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Soft War" that can also kill

AN Iranian student friend, no supporter of President Ahmadinejad's regime, draws my attention to an item from the Financial Times:

EU trio targets tougher Iran sanctions

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Alex Barker in London

Published: February 25 2009 22:17 | Last updated: February 25 2009 22:17

France, Germany and the UK – the so-called EU3 – are proposing a tough list of additional sanctions to be imposed against Iran in order to give the Obama administration more muscle in its expected engagement of the Islamic republic.

A confidential document seen by the Financial Times and Il Riformista, an Italian newspaper, lists 34 Iranian entities and 10 individuals allegedly linked to Iran’s covert nuclear or biological weapons programmes.

Now hold on. Before we go any further, not everyone is convinced Iran has a nuclear weapons programme. They say they haven't, Russia says they haven't, and so far the only governments who say they have are Israel - so far the only the Middle Eastern state which we know for sure has nuclear weapons, and the states who have helped Israel acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

As for a biological weapons programme, this is an allegation I've not heard before. We've more than once seen alleged warfare facilities bombed by which turned out to have been nothing of the sort.

The FT says "European diplomats confirmed the existence of the list but differed over the reasoning behind it. Some said it was intended to provide Washington with a “bigger stick” option in continuation of the existing carrot-and-stick approach. Others said the EU3 wanted to influence a more hardline outcome of Washington’s current review of its Iran policy, expected to be completed next month.

'Internal debate has already reopened European divisions. Diplomats said five countries – Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Austria and Sweden – were opposed. Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister, is said to have argued for a strong common European front regardless of Washington’s next tack. The UK views it as a post-review option.

'The six-page list includes some entities already listed by the US and the United Nations for sanctions. But all the individuals on the new EU-wide sanctions proposal face penalties for the first time, including the commander and deputy of the paramilitary Basij force.

'Some state-run organisations are named for the first time, including the prestigious Sharif University of Technology, Iran Insurance Company, Iran Air Cargo, which is affiliated to the state-owned airliner Khatam ol-Anbia, a construction contractor affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guards, Iran Space Agency and Razi Institute for Serum and Vaccine Production.'

My Iranian friend comments:

"OK. That's enough Mr EU! You can't put the name of my university in your fucking list! And probably no one moves the nuclear bomb with Iran Air cargo to Israel. And Razi instiute? you probably want to kill hundreds of people, thousands of kids who need vaccination and it is not their fault that the main center for serum and vaccine is state-owned, and the state is a state which you don't like. They can't understand your fucking rationales while struggling with diseases. They're kids Mr EU."

Perhaps it is not polite to ask about chemical warfare. Iranians, along with Kurds, have been at the receiving end of it, when the late Saddam Hussein was riding high in support from the western powers. Britain, France, and the United States all helped, though it was German industry that supplied the chemicals. It has long had the expertise in that field.

Britain, the United States, and perhaps Israel too have done work on biological warfare, even if they claimed that, as at Porton Down for example, it was purely for defensive measures. We may wonder whether the British public would have accepted this explanation had it known back in the 1950s that experiments were carried out in spreading germs or toxins by aerosol on the London Underground. But you need not actually introduce bacteriological weapons to wage this kind of warfare, whether by effect or intent. Israeli forces blockading Gaza have brought the threat of epidemics, by stopping power or spare parts needed for water treatment and sewage plants, as well as holding up medical supplies.

Applying sanctions to a centre producing serums and vaccines is blatant enough.

The usual excuse used for blocking items needed for civil use is the "dual use" one - that valves and switchgear or electronic equipment might possibly be used in military production. It becomes an excuse for bringing a country's industries to a halt, and more. As a Briefing Paper prepared for Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) says:

“Even if something is not on a list, a lot of companies will say, ‘Dealing with Iran – oh, I’d better not do it,’ ” said a European diplomat in Tehran. “It’s becoming like 1990s Iraq, when companies used to refuse to sell papers and pencils to Iraq’

We are also told that what are being implemented are "smart sanctions", targeted at the regime and its weapons projects. But we saw with Iraq that while working people lost their jobs, and could not afford foods, hospitals lacked medicines and spares for equipmnt, the privileged officer class could rely on the black market for anything they wanted and some even profited running it. It would also be worth looking closer at the effectof sanctions on people in Zimbabwe.

The FT report acknowledges disagreements among EU member states and within Western opinion about the Iran sanctions issue, and inconsistencies in policy. "Critics argue that the policy of coercion has failed so far, leading to an impasse over the nuclear issue and negative repercussions for efforts to influence Iranian behaviour in other crucial areas, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Trita Parsi, Washington-based head of the National Iranian American Council, which urges direct dialogue between Iran and the US, is concerned that the US will stick to 'the mentality of threats and coercion'. He also sees a danger of losing a comprehensive approach. 'It would be alarming if on the one hand Iran is invited to the [G8] Afghan conference in June and at the same time sanctions are slapped on Sharif University,' he said.

Iranian participation was under discussion this week when Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister, met Richard Holbrooke, US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Washington. There is a precedent, though the British government may not acknowledge it. After blaming Iran for weapons smuggling and roadside bombs in Iraq, the British government is depending on the Iranian government and parties it supports to maintain order and ease withdrawal of British forces.

Stepping up sanctions seems an odd way of rewarding Tehran for co-operation. Maybe depending on subterfuge and letting the intelligence services decide policy has left Britain in the dark over its own foreign policy, or least left the govrnment's left hand not knowing what its right hand is doing.

If western sanctions are meant to be "smart", just what is their purpose anyway? If the powers want to know what Iran is up to in the scientific field, how come US academic journals have been told to reject papers submitted by Iranian scientists? (Upholders of academic freedom please note!). If the Western "democracies" wish to assist dissent in Iran, against the tyrranical regime, how come the Iranian regime can run and acquire media outlets at home and abroad, but American internet providers can refuse to host sites and discussion lists used by Iranian student dissidents?

Sanctions against Iraq were supposed to give impetus to forces opposed to Saddam Hussein - if people suffer they will stop supporting his policies, was the crude argument used by some politicians (as though the Iraqi people had much chance against a regime which our government had armed). In fact, by devastating industries and services before the war completed the job, they hit the very forces - the working class and educated layers -"civil society" - which could replace the regime. What had been perhaps the most advanced Arab country was ruined, and left dependent, and prey to backward and divisive forces, to be more pliable for imperialist interests. Is that a possible side effect of sanctions, or is is it the real intention?

HOPI, which supports the struggles of workers, women and freedom-seking students in Iran, and opposes imperialist war, says the sanctions policy is just "soft war", and could be a precursor to real war rather than an alternative. It has prepared a briefing paper on the sanctions and their effects, which is available online, and will be holding a press conference on this issue on March 16, with Labour MP John McDonnell.

HOPI is also applying once again for affiliation to the Stop the War Coalition. I think it was scandalous that this vital campaign was rejected for admission in the first place. The spurious grounds then was that HOPI was allegedly a front for the Communist Party of Great Britain, which was illogical considering the CPGB was and is a Coalition affiliate; and opposed in some way to the Coalition's aims. Now apparently the STWC leadership argue that they have no time or rsources to discuss their attitude on Iran, though they seem able to host the Islamic regime's representatives, it is only the critics whom they find a problem.

With HOPI leading the way in opposing sanctions, the Stop the War Coalition will have to decide whether it really wants to be seen as defending the Islamic regime against left-wing criticism and opposition, rather than defending Iran and the Iranian people against imperialism and war.

For more on HOPI, visit:

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At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Charlie for covering this case. I hope we finally stop them imposing new sanctions.
and Thanks alot for supporting people of Iran.


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