New US edicts just short of war
President Carter's new steps against Iran are designed as much as anything to encourage America's allies to impose sanctions against that country. In effect, the President has described to take most of the remaining nonmilitary steps that would normally accompany a declaration of war against another country.
At his April 17 press conference, President Carter announced a ban on travel to Iran by Americans other than newsmen and other persons with special reasons for going to that country, such as relatives of the American hostages being held there.
Other steps include a ban on all imports from Iran under an across-the-board embargo on trade with that country, further movement toward the use of Iran's frozen assets to satisfy American claims against Iran, and proposals for restrictions on Iran's use of telecommunications satellites.
The President also banned all financial transfer between the US and Iran except those involving news or hostage families.
He is, among other things, also moving closer to a ban on shipment of all food and medicine to Iran. Such trade already is down to a trickle.
"The steps are designed to demonstrate to our allies that we are very serious in what we are doing and that there is a need for others to act," said a high-ranking administration official.
At this writing, the US State Department assessment was that the European Parliament, meeting April 18 in Strasbourg, France, will act positively on President Carter's request for sanctions against Iran. But it is also clear that most of the West European countries have doubts about the wisdom and efficacy of Mr. Carter's moves against Iran.
It is not at all clear how far the European Parliament will go in any recommendation to the West European governments. Tory members of the parliament have proposed a resolution which urges the members of the European Community to take "all necessary and practicable steps to oblige the Iranian authorities to release the hostages."
A State Department official said the British and West Germans had been the most forthcoming in their response to President Carter's entreaties. The French , he said, were the main "sticking point."
But many of the Europeans, and not just Frenchmen, seem to share a concern that President Carter lacks steadiness in his handling of the situation and many be reacting largely in response to domestic political pressures. They fear aggressive moves against Iran might drive the Iranians into the arms of the Soviet Union. And they fear that such moves could damage their heavy economic interests in the Persian Gulf.
"The Europeans are desperately vulnerable in terms of oil prices and their dependence upon supplies from the Gulf," said Robert Lieber, a University of California professor who has studied the problem. "And they see the US and its dependence on imported oil as a major part of the problem.
"There has always been a tendency to want to kick the French," Professor Lieber said. "But the French have in fact played a constructive role on Iran behind the scenes."
White House officials have denied allegations that President Carter's press conference announcement on new sanctions against Iran, coming as it did only six days before a key primary election in Pennsylvania, was in any way motivated by political considerations. But one well-placed official did acknowledge that the President's actions are related to a degree to what is perceived to be the public mood in America, a mood that is said to demand action on the hostage question.
"You can argue that more of this is really in our long-term strategic interest," the official said. "But we live in a democratic society, and at a certain point the President must respond to the demands of that society."
US officials say that the new moves against Iran are part of an effort aimed at further isolating that nation. They further say that President Carter has not yet decided on a naval blockade or quarantine of Iran, should the new measures fail.