A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest
Why Petroleum Sanctions on Iran Are a Mistake
Former U.S. Officials and Others Speak OutThe statements below from Iran’s leading human rights activist and U.S. diplomats and national security officials who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations point the way forward for a sensible and effective U.S. policy toward Iran. Sanctions and threats will not help Iranian reformers in their struggle with hardliners or make Iran more likely to compromise with the international community. The U.S. can exert positive influence on the political debate inside Iran and increase the chances of agreement by constructive actions that discredit those in Iran who argue that the U.S. cannot be trusted and will always be hostile to Iran.
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize winner, lawyer, and Iranian human rights activist, February 12, 2010
"The Iranian people are against military attack as they are against sanctions, because sanctions.... will only worsen the situation of the Iranian people… You western governments, are you punishing our people or are you punishing our government?"
Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, interview with Bloomberg News, March 19, 2010
"I don’t see a set of sanctions coming along that would be so detrimental to the Iranians that they are going to stop that program, so ultimately, the solution has to be a negotiated one....The Iranians are determined to have a nuclear program. Notice I did not say a nuclear weapon. But they are determined to have a nuclear program, notwithstanding the last six or seven years of efforts on our part to keep them from having a nuclear program."
Zbigniew Brzezinski, “From Hope to Audacity,” Foreign Affairs, January-February 2010 (Zbigniew Brzezinski was National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter.)
"[Is] Washington willing to engage in negotiations with some degree of patience and with sensitivity to the mentality of the other side? It would not be conducive to serious negotiations if the United States were to persist in publicly labeling Iran as a terrorist state, as a state that is not to be trusted, as a state against which sanctions or even a military option should be prepared. Doing that would simply play into the hands of the most hard-line elements in Iran. It would facilitate their appeal to Iranian nationalism, and it would narrow the cleavage that has recently emerged in Iran between those who desire a more liberal regime and those who seek to perpetuate a fanatical dictatorship."
"These points must be borne in mind if and when additional sanctions become necessary. Care should be taken to make certain that the sanctions are politically intelligent and that they isolate the regime rather than unify all Iranians. Sanctions must punish those in power -- not the Iranian middle class, as an embargo on gasoline would do. The unintended result of imposing indiscriminately crippling sanctions would likely be to give the Iranians the impression that the United States' real objective is to prevent their country from acquiring even a peaceful nuclear program -- and that, in turn, would fuel nationalism and outrage."
James M. Lindsay and Ray Takeyh, "After Iran Gets the Bomb," Foreign Affairs, March-April 2010. (Lindsay is a Senior Vice President and Takeyh a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Takeyh, an Iranian-American, worked under Dennis Ross at the State Department in 2009.)
"Washington might also be tempted to seek to further undermine Iran's economy by imposing broad-based economic sanctions, an idea that enjoys considerable support on Capitol Hill. But such measures would wind up punishing only Iran's disenfranchised citizenry (which is why Iranian opposition leaders have strenuously opposed them). The wiser course of action would be to strengthen and better monitor existing export controls, in order to make certain that Iran's nuclear and defense industries do not have access to dual-use technologies, and to reinforce targeted sanctions against the Iranian leadership and the business enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guards. Washington should push, both inside and outside the UN, for travel bans on Iranian leaders and measures denying Iran access to capital markets, for example. It should also find ways to penalize foreign businesses that invest in Iran's dilapidated oil industry. Smart sanctions of this kind would punish Iran's leaders but spare ordinary Iranians, who have no say over the regime's actions."
James L. Jones and Thomas R. Pickering, "Afghanistan Study Group Report," The Center for the Study of the Presidency, Harvard University, January 30, 2008. (James Jones is now National Security Advisor to President Barak Obama; he is a retired Marine Corp general and former head of NATO. Thomas Pickering is a retired career diplomat who has served in many posts, including as President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations.)
"[The U.S. should] develop a strategy towards Iran that includes the possibility to resume discussions with Iran to coax greater cooperation from Tehran in helping to stabilize Afghanistan. Establish, with U.S. allies, a cooperative net assessment of what Iran is doing in Afghanistan to map out a sound strategy that seeks to convince Tehran to develop a more constructive role there and includes the possibility to reestablish direct talks on Afghanistan."
Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, “Another Iranian Revolution? Not Likely,” New York Times, January 5, 2010 (Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett negotiated with Iran as officials in the administration of President George W. Bush.)
"As a model, the president would do well to look to China. Since President Richard Nixon’s opening there (which took place amid the Cultural Revolution), successive American administrations have been wise enough not to let political conflict — whether among the ruling elite or between the state and the public, as in the Tiananmen Square protests and ethnic separatism in Xinjiang — divert Washington from sustained, strategic engagement with Beijing. President Obama needs to begin displaying similar statesmanship in his approach to Iran. "
Statement by Iran Experts including James Dobbins, former ambassador to the Afghan opposition; Barnett Rubin, academic expert on South Asia and currently advisor to U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke; and Gary Sick, former officer on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, January 2009, the American Foreign Policy Project
"U.S. efforts to manage Iran through isolation, threats and sanctions have been tried intermittently for more than two decades. In that time they have not solved any major problem in U.S.-Iran relations, and have made most of them worse."
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to the White House before Iran Sanctions passed the Senate in January 2010.
"While we agree that preventing Iran from developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons is an urgent U.S. national security objective, the unilateral, extraterritorial, and overly broad approach of these bills would undercut rather than advance this critical objective... The history of similar efforts demonstrates that such a unilateral approach would provoke a negative response from our allies and would divert attention from an effective, coordinated response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions."
Other experts and members of Congress expressed opposition to more broad-based U.S. sanctions on Iran at a House subcommittee hearing on December 15, 2009.