On May 8, the Trump administration celebrated the one-year anniversary of exiting the Iran nuclear deal by imposing yet another round of sanctions on the Islamic Republic, this time targeting the iron, steel, aluminum and copper sectors — about 10 percent of the country’s export revenue. In a statement unveiling the package, the White House reassured the Iranian people that the measures are designed to cut off funding to the regime. President Trump urged Tehran to “respect the rights of its people, and return in good faith to the negotiating table.”
Iran overshadowed the rollout of the measures, however, by announcing that it would take steps toward enriching uranium at higher levels, citing U.S. violations of the nuclear deal, according to a statement posted by Iran’s Fars News Agency.
In other words, Iran may soon start conducting the very types of activities the nuclear accord was designed to limit as the United States doubles down on the very types of measures that forced Tehran’s hand in the first place.
This comes as The New York Times reports that Trump administration officials are considering deploying up to 120,000 troops to the region if Iran resumes its nuclear program or attacks U.S. forces.
Of immediate concern is the impact the new measures will inflict on Iran’s already fragile situation, given that the International Monetary Fund expects Iran’s economy to shrink by 6 percent and unemployment to reach 15 percent this year.
Illegal, Immoral Sanctions
The White House has boasted that with this latest action, the United States has now imposed sanctions on Iran’s top three exports: oil, petrochemicals and metals.
In a statement on May 8, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is targeting Iran’s largest non-oil related export to degrade the regime’s alleged ability “to fund terror and instability in the Middle East.”
U.S. officials would never admit, of course, that the metal sanctions were deliberately designed to hurt a large swathe of Iran’s civilian population. Yet, human rights lawyers and experts told Truthout that is exactly what the sanctions are designed to accomplish.
Overall, metal-related industries in Iran employ around 22 million workers, or 10 percent of the workforce, the Associated Press reported on May 9, citing a study by Iran’s Parliament.
Dan Kovalik, a human rights lawyer and former senior associate general counsel for the United Steelworkers, said the sanctions will adversely affect workers in the metals and auto industries, as well Iran’s ability to pay for social services and infrastructure.
“This will lead to significant suffering among the Iranian people, and that is what it is intended to do. These sanctions are therefore immoral, and they are also illegal as they are unilateral and without authorization of the [U.N.] Security Council which has the sole authority to impose such measures in the interest of international peace and security,” Kovalik, who also teaches human rights law at Pitt Law School, told Truthout.
National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi, who has been a fierce critic of Tehran, opposes the Trump administration “max pressure” campaign against Iran, including the latest round of sanctions.
“This will have a devastating effect on the Iranian economy, pushing it toward a deeper recession,” Parsi said. “The Iranian people will bear the brunt of this, as is always the case with … broad sanctions.”
At the same time, the United States has escalated military pressure on Iran. On May 11, the Pentagon announced that it was deploying a Patriot missile defense system to join a carrier strike force in the Middle East to counter Iranian provocations.
War crimes lawyer and University of Illinois Law School professor Francis Boyle suggested that the likely goal of the additional sanctions is to instigate the Iranian government into doing something provocative, such as closing the Straits of Hormuz, to use as a pretext for a military attack.
Boyle, who currently serves as counsel to the Palestinian National Authority and has been involved in prosecuting several international war crimes cases, said it appears that Trump, Pompeo and White House National Security Advisor John Bolton have decided “to wage economic warfare against the Iranian people” to foment a revolt to effect regime change.
The sanctions on Iran’s metal industries also amount to crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.
The U.S. State Department has not yet responded to a query regarding the sanctions’ potential negative impact on Iranian workers.
In its May 8 statement, Iran said it gave the other signatories of the nuclear deal — China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — 60 days to take steps to protect Tehran’s interests or else it would cease implementation of restrictions on uranium enrichment levels.
The other parties to the agreement, however, appear unwilling or unable to meet Tehran’s ultimatum.
This raises the question as to what can be done to prevent the United States from entirely destroying Iran’s economy and/or launching an offensive with impunity.
Kovalik believes that to challenge such deadly sanctions regimes, the United States needs a revived peace movement to demand an end to all unilateral acts of war.
Boyle recommended leveraging international law, noting that at the moment, Iran has a pending lawsuit against the United States before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where it secured a provisional measure analogous to a temporary restraining order. Iran brought the case against the United States last year after Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord, claiming that Washington violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights. The provisional measure requires the United States to ensure that re-imposed sanctions exempt certain humanitarian goods. However, the order does not yet require Washington to fully reinstate sanctions relief.
“It seems to me that Iran should go back into the World Court and try to get another temporary restraining order against the United States before the situation gets completely out of control,” Boyle said. “At least the World Court could tell the entire world who is right and who is wrong in this situation.”
The peace movement could act upon that order, as was done with respect to Nicaragua in 1984, which led to the ICJ ruling in 1986 that U.S. sponsorship of the contra war violated international law, Boyle added.
From Parsi’s perspective, a course correction is possible if tensions between Trump and Bolton increase as they have recently over Venezuela policy.
On April 30, Bolton publicly claimed that key leaders close to President Nicolás Maduro were ready to defect — a development that never materialized.
As with Iran, Bolton has spearheaded a lethal sanctions policy in Venezuela while repeatedly threatening military action.
A Center for Economic and Policy Research study — co-authored by world-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs — revealed that U.S. sanctions have killed some 40,000 Venezuelans since 2017.
On May 11, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó submitted a formal request to work directly with the Pentagon through his envoy in the United States, Carlos Vecchio. In a letter to U.S. Southern Command, the Venezuelan opposition asked for a meeting to discuss “strategic and operational planning” to oust Maduro.
Parsi hopes that once Trump realizes he is being dragged down a path toward war, he might take the Iran portfolio away from Bolton.
“He [Trump] has already been led to a failed policy on Venezuela by Bolton, and the same is happening on Iran,” Parsi concluded.
At the time of writing, President Trump has denied a report in yesterday’s New York Times that the U.S. has plans to deploy as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East.
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