By fleet diplomatic footwork, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assembled a sanctions package for submitting to the UN Security Council Tuesday, May 19, which Western diplomats admitted contained few new measures, but gained the reluctant assent of Russia and China, as well as the UK, France and Germany.
She achieved this by heavily diluting the original draft. That too will be further revised and watered down in the weeks of haggling ahead before it is approved.
The Obama administration gave ground on severity in order to salvage the last vestige of its sanctions strategy from the disastrous impact of the deal Brazil and Turkey brokered with Iran the day before, whereby half of Iran's low-enriched uranium would be deposited in Turkey to be swapped for 19.5 percent processed material within a year.
That deal was regarded in Washington as a maneuver to delay the fourth round of sanctions. The secretary of state responded with a package of measures without the teeth for deterring Iran from driving forward toward a nuclear weapon but, as she admitted, it was the best possible in the circumstances.
The measures fall short of a total arms embargo against Tehran, although some additional arms are banned, or blacklisting Iran's central bank. Iranian ships will be watched for contraband but only boarded in the territorial waters of UN member-states, not on the high seas.
States are asked to take appropriate, though not mandatory, measures, exercise vigilance against Iranian bank transactions and "be wary" of dealing with the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the companies it controls.
debkafile reported on Tuesday, May 18 in the wake of the Brazilian-brokered deal in Tehran:
The US-led Six-Power bloc, known also as the Vienna Group, was given the sole option of endorsing the deal even though Tehran bluntly declared its intention to continue to enrich uranium up to 20 percent inside the country, in defiance of all previous UN Security Council resolutions.
Turkish foreign minister Ahmed Davutoglu said supportively that he saw no need for further sanctions against Iran. As an administration official admitted to debkafile early Tuesday, "the international climate manufactured in Tehran had tossed harsh sanctions against Iran on the rubbish heap because there are no takers."
The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened his inner cabinet in Jerusalem Tuesday, May 18, to decide how to handle the crisis created by the Brazilian-Turkish-Iranian uranium enrichment accord.
But the fact is that sanctions with real bite had never been more than a will-o'-the wisp in the first place.
For months, President Obama chased the unreachable goal of unanimous UN Security Council approval of sanctions as empowerment for tough, unilateral US and European penalties against Iran. Russia and China had circled around the draft but never climbed aboard.
So when Vice President Joe Biden declared in the last week of April that a fourth round of tough sanctions would be in place by the end of the month – or in early May, at latest, he knew they were off the table and hoped only to calm Israel and Iran's Arab Gulf neighbors and fend off their clamor for tangible action to stop Iran's nuclear progress.
And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was whistling in the dark when she warned the foreign ministers of Brazil and Turkey Thursday night May 13 that they were wasting their time if they hoped their mediation bid would have any practical impact on Tehran's nuclear aspirations.
Both knew that Washington was being relentlessly driven back by Beijing and Moscow on a sanctions draft: US negotiators had more or less agreed on the quiet to draw its teeth by giving up on a total embargo on the sale of sophisticated weapons systems to Iran and energy export restrictions.
The same US official admitted that restrictions on arms sales had been watered down to "very moderate" and provided no real bar to the sale of warplanes and missiles to Iran. The final blow was delivered in Tehran Monday by two non-permanent Security Council members, Brazil and Turkey, dropping out.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened his inner cabinet of 7 ministers on the crisis. Both he and defense minister Ehud Barak have come in for extreme criticism in military circles for allowing Israel's hand to be held by the false prospect of painful sanctions stopping Iran's development of a nuclear bomb in its tracks.
Barak in particular was accused of misleading the public by his constant assurances that it was up to the United States to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran and the issue was well in hand. Both knew the truth, namely that the Obama administration's efforts to gather a coalition of world powers for the imposition of effective sanctions had never realistically got off the ground.