Middle East Features
EU sanctions to hit Iran's people not government
By Farshid Motahari Jan 25, 2012, 10:39 GMT
Tehran - The European Union sanctions to be imposed on Iran has been felt by ordinary Iranians even before they have been implemented, as the announcement of a halt to imports of Iranian oil and the blocking of the accounts of its central bank have wrought confusion on Tehran's markets.
The rial has halved in value and the effect of this is already apparent to shoppers. The country also faces military confrontation should anything ill-considered be undertaken in the Persian Gulf.
The government is well aware of the possible consequences this time, and for this reason reaction has been cautious. 'The more they (the EU) move in the direction of sanctions, the more obstacles there will be in resolving the nuclear conflict,' says Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Arakchi.
While the country does not intend to give up its nuclear programme, Arakchi says, 'the door to well-meaning negotiations is open as always.'
The threats to close the Straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf in the event of oil sanctions being imposed, blocking a substantial proportion of international oil exports, have also moderated in tone.
Those parliamentarians who continued to make the threat were reined in by the government. 'Remarks like that are the opinions of individuals but not that of the government,' Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has said.
Foreign Minister Ali-Albar Salehi has also made clear that, 'Iran has never had the intention of closing the Straits of Hormuz.'
And Iran's generals have become more cautious. At the beginning of the month, the commander-in-chief of the army, General Ataollah Salehi, said United States aircraft carriers should not return to the Gulf. 'We will say this just once,' Salehi stressed at the time.
But when the nuclear-powered carrier USS Abraham Lincoln passed the straits over the weekend, accompanied by British and French warships, the comments were moderated. 'American warships have been in the Persian Gulf for years. This is nothing new,' Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said.
By issuing permission for a team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to enter the country at the end of the month, Iran is attempting to calm the atmosphere and to demonstrate that it is not working on a secret weapons programme.
After the visit, Tehran aims to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible. But this will be of little help, as long as Iran does not halt its uranium enrichment programme, at least temporarily. 'That won't happen,' Mehmanparast says.
Observers believe it is unlikely the latest round of sanctions will compel Iran to stop enriching uranium. 'How would (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad look if an agreement were announced now,' a foreign diplomat based in Tehran says.
Since taking office in 2005, the nuclear programme, alongside the hostility towards Israel, has been a symbol of Ahmadinejad's presidency. 'An end to the nuclear programme would mean an end to the Ahmadinejad era, and that won't happen,' an Iranian journalist says.
'Sanctions won't help there either, because the country will not go bankrupt, and the nuclear programme at least will be financed somehow or other. The government will think of something,' a political scientist in Tehran says.
Oil exports to EU countries affect at most 20 per cent of the country's income, and even if other countries back the sanctions, the Iran would still have sufficient income to finance the nuclear programme.
'However, the US and EU should know that the country's income finances not only the nuclear programme, but also the ordinary people, who will be worse affected by the sanctions than the government,' the political scientist says.
This has already happened. Fariba D, 45-year-old Tehran housewife says: 'People in the West always say they have nothing against the Iranian people, but for goodness' sake, this kind of policy only affects us, not the government.'
Her husband has a heart ailment that needs to be treated with imported medication that has doubled in price over the last two weeks as a result of the sanctions and the fall in the value of the rial.
The couple will not be able to afford the new price over the longer term, with the result that the man faces a complex and hazardous operation. 'Thanks very much, America. Thanks, European Union,' she says.