Even as President Obama prepared to sign into law Thursday new US sanctions against Iran, the Iranian president has decided that a ban on signature American and Western products is fitting retaliation for the Iran sanctions that the United Nations Security Council approved last month.
The ban on Western products is part of a bifurcated response from Tehran to the recent sanctions targeting the Iranian nuclear program.
On the one hand, Iranian officials blithely dismiss the measures, saying they will have no impact on the country’s nuclear progress – which Iran says is aimed solely at peaceful energy production, but which many global powers have concluded is designed with the development of a nuclear weapon in mind.
But on the other hand, Tehran is lashing out over the international actions against it. As one example, it is warning European leaders of dire economic consequences for not only having supported the UN sanctions, but then for also approving additional sanctions of their own.
“The Iranian regime is caught in the contradiction of its relations with its own people, especially with a Westernized young society, and its economic relations with the world. And that is why we see these different responses,” says Bahman Baktiari, director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “They want to convince their own people that the government can fight back against these kinds of pressures from the outside world as they have in the past. But they also know that they need to operate in a globalized world,” he adds, “so they are reacting to restrictions that are going to have an impact.”
Mr. Obama was scheduled to sign into law Thursday evening the Iran Sanctions Act, which Congress approved shortly after the Security Council adopted a fourth round of Iran sanctions on June 9.
In prepared remarks released ahead of time, Obama said, “With these sanctions – along with others – we are striking at the heart of the Iranian government’s ability to fund and develop its nuclear programs. We are showing the Iranian government that its actions have consequences.”
The new US law excludes any companies involved in selling refined petroleum products to Iran from selling in the US market. Another stipulation of the law bars foreign banks that do business in Iran from accessing the US financial system.
The focus of the European Union’s unilateral sanctions is a ban on new ventures in Iran’s oil and gas industry, including new investment and technology transfers.
Dr. Baktiari says he will be watching for the impact that Obama’s signing of the sanctions will have back in Tehran – for example, among cabdrivers and other service workers.
“Those are the people who risk feeling the biggest impact from these petroleum sanctions,” he says. But, he adds, the wild card in this situation is that it’s a globally popular American president signing the new law.
“Obama is popular, and many Iranians, especially among the young people, think Obama gave a fair shake to the Iranian government with his offer for unconditional dialogue,” he says. “These new sanctions will have an impact on Iran, but there’s a bigger chance now that people will blame that on the government” and not on the US.
As for Ahmadinejad’s call for a boycott of Coke and other American products?
“The response is ridicule,” Baktiari says. “Even the most rural Iranian knows these products and associates them with America.” If Ahmadinejad really wants to stop these products, he’d have to cut off trade with Dubai, he adds, “and everyone knows he’s not going to do that.”