The new Iran nuclear sanctions were hailed by President Barack Obama as "the toughest ever faced by Iran," but Iranian officials vowed to press on with their nuclear program.
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UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said that “no amount of pressure and mischief” would deter the Islamic Republic from pursuing what it says is a peaceful nuclear energy program. “Iran is one of the most powerful and stable countries in the region, and never bowed – and will never bow – to the hostile actions and pressures by these few powers.”
As the latest round of UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions appeared increasingly inevitable in recent weeks, the Islamic Republic fought back with devil-may-care rhetoric—as well as frenetic diplomacy aimed at finding more friends.
“Politically, it will be a great blow,” says an Iranian journalist in Tehran who asked not to be named for security reasons. “We are now moving away from gray and moving into the black-and-white phase; the political alignments will become more clear now.”
"Iran is losing Russia, China, and all those countries that matter," the journalist says. "Its dollars can no longer buy political credit [because of] the great isolation it faces…. This has brought great, and visible, fear to Iranian officials.”
When the vote came on Wednesday, the United States blasted what it called Iran’s “continued recklessness” over its nuclear program, and spearheaded 12 votes in favor of sanctioning 40 more Iranian businesses, banks, and shipping companies – double the number of the three previous sanctions votes combined.
Voting “no” were Turkey and Brazil—nonpermanent UNSC members that had brokered a May 17 deal with Tehran to export half of its low-enriched uranium, as a confidence-building measure. Both nations prefer diplomacy to sanctions. Lebanon abstained.
In recent weeks, senior Iranian officials have been hurriedly dispatched to distant capitals, from Austria to Uganda and Turkey to China, to lobby each of the 15 members of the UNSC, with the exception of the United States, an arch foe of Iran for 31 years.
Mr. Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday that brandishing the “stick” of a UNSC sanctions vote would mean that Iran would not take part in future nuclear negotiations. He said the nuclear swap offer, the full details of which have not been worked out, was a one-time “opportunity.”
Just hours before the sanctions vote, the US, Russia, and France presented the UN's nuclear watchdog agency with a list of nine concerns it had about the tripartite nuclear swap deal – an agreement very similar to one the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) put to Iran last October.
Iran has dismissed the impact of UN sanctions dating to 2006, which have targeted an array of institutions – from banks to universities, many with links to the powerful Revolutionary Guard – that are connected to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
Sanctions have not so far forced Iran to comply with the key international demand: a suspension of its uranium enrichment program until the IAEA is satisfied Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran denies wanting to make a nuclear bomb.
Sanctions helping Iran?
Iranian officials sometimes crow that sanctions have heightened the country's self-sufficiency. In addition to nuclear sanctions, the US has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution ousted the pro-Western Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
“Iranian state media [has been] playing it up, with Ahmadinejad literally saying ‘bring it on,’ says a young Iranian professional who left Iran a few days ago, and asked not to be named. “They are saying: ‘This is development for us; we’ve gotten so far [despite past sanctions].’ And to be honest, we have.”
That can-do spirit stems from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The men who now constitute Iran’s hard-line leadership believe that they repelled a 1981 invasion from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which received US, Soviet, and European support over eight years of war, through ingenuity and faith.
“They used all their power, [and brought] all their resources to the battlefield to defeat or weaken the Islamic Republic, and what was the result?” Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said in a speech last Friday. “The world saw with amazement the emerging of the Islamic Republic with a much, much stronger defensive military capability."
“Whatever arm they’ve cut off [with sanctions], we’ve grown two; that’s the Iranian way,” says the professional. “State media was able to play this very well…. The public doesn’t know what [sanctions] cover, doesn’t remember what it covers, doesn’t know the effects – it just knows the US is bullying us.”
Both Brazilian and Turkish ambassadors, explaining their no votes before the council, said further sanctions would not convince Iran to halt its nuclear programs, and were more likely to have the opposite effect.
But US Ambassador Susan Rice said the sanctions were “aimed squarely at the nuclear ambitions” of Iran, and provided “important new tools.” The purpose was to “change the calculation of the leadership of Iran."
“The animosity between Iran and the US – and the depth of it – has become quite clear now,” says the journalist in Tehran. “Khamenei’s speech [last Friday] clearly indicated what we already knew, that there will never be any mending of ties with the US, simply because [the Islamic Republic] was founded on the principle of US defiance. He clearly said: 'If we do anything that appeals to the US and the West, it means we have done something wrong and we should rethink our actions.' "
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IN PICTURES: Who has nukes?