Will Iran sanctions work?

It is always dangerous to confuse diplomatic progress with real progress. I don’t mean to denigrate the work of the western diplomats who have toiled for months to put together a new package of sanctions on Iran. In purely diplomatic terms, it was a formidable achievement to get a new UN resolution through today. Although a lot of attention has focussed on the fact that Turkey and Brazil voted against the resolution – an interesting development, to be sure - I think the more significant fact is that all five permanent members of the Security Council voted in favour. It has taken a lot of haggling and persuasion to get the Chinese and the Russians on board.

Inevitably, however, the price of unanimity was to water down the resolution. Western diplomats think that it was worth it. Obviously, a Russian or Chinese veto would have meant no sanctions at all. It is hoped that getting Moscow and Beijing actually to vote in favour will send a powerful signal of international unity to Tehran.

But will it be enough to persuade the Iranians to slow work on their nuclear programme, or even abandon it altogether? I have always been sceptical about this. It seems to me that the prestige of the Iranian government is now so closely tied up with the nuclear programme that it would take something really enormous to persuade them to take a different path. The package agreed at the UN falls far short of the “crippling” sanctions that Hillary Clinton once called for. In particular, there is no effort to target Iran’s energy industry – a measure that might really damage the economy.

However, some of the people involved in the diplomatic effort, seem more hopeful that sanctions might yet work. One European diplomat argues that – “The Iranian regime is under huge economic pressure already. They’re running through their reserves. They are suffering from shortages and high unemployment. They know they are deeply unpopular. These sanctions with ratchet up the pressure further. They could work, if we just don’t become defeatist and start talking about containing a nuclear Iran.”

I’m not sure I’m convinced. But here’s hoping.