James Denselow
Monday 1 February 2010 16.00 GMT

Are US sanctions against Iranian airlines punishing the state or
simply endangering innocent

The stakes were dramatically raised in the Middle East at the
weekend by news that the US is deploying defensive missile systems
throughout the Gulf. Writing in the Guardian, Robert Tait warned that
the deployment "may strengthen radical elements in the revolutionary
guards". It is for this reason that President Obama should realise the
importance of balancing bigger sticks with bigger carrots, including
the reduction of sanctions against Iranian civilian airlines.

Last month more than 40 passengers were injured when an Iranian Tupolev
154 crash-landed at Mashhad. Another Russian-built Tupolev crashed
last year en route to Armenia, killing all 168 on board. Iran has a
poor aviation safety record, with numerous crashes since US aviation
sanctions prevented it from buying more reliable western planes in
1995. The question that arises from these incidents is whether banning
civilian airline parts represents "smart" sanctions that are intended
to maximise the pressure on the ruling regime while limiting their
unintended side effects, or whether it puts the lives of innocent
travellers of all nationalities at risk.

At the end of 2009 the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation, Reza
Nakhjavani, criticised the American ban as inhumane and tantamount to
denying the country medical supplies. Yet according to the Carnegie
Institute the initial logic of the Iran Sanctions Act was to "curb
the strategic threat of Iran" with particular focus on the developing
energy sector. Although development of the energy sector has been
somewhat stunted, Iran's reliance on Russia and China to fill in for
the US has the unintended consequence of making it a lot harder to
find security council consensus on dealing with the country.

The 1995 sanctions against Iran prohibited military technology or
militarily useful technology to the country. The difficulty with the
latter is that it opens up the confusion concerning how sanctions
should dealing with potential "dual use" materials. Parts that could
be used to repair Iran's ailing civilian fleet could be cannibalised
and perhaps used by the Iranian military. In their paper on the
1990s, a period they described as the "sanctions decade", David
Cortright and George Lopez stressed the importance of minimising the
humanitarian impacts. The fundamental purpose of sanctions, they said,
"should be bringing states back into the international arena through
constructive engagement".

A report prepared for the International Civil Aviation Organisation
(ICAO) in 2005 warned that American sanctions against Iran were placing
civilian lives in danger by denying Iranian aviation necessary spare
parts. The report said the US government and major US companies were
ignoring international treaties and taking actions that put passengers
on Iranian commercial airlines at risk, including thousands of people
from other countries travelling to and from Iran. Last year, the
former director of the atomic agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, described
the prospect of further sanctions on Iran as ineffective.

Iranian airlines do not suffer alone. Last year Syria's attempt to
escape western isolation was dealt a blow when the US blocked French
attempts to upgrade Syria's national carrier with Airbuses. Syria
stopped flying Boeings to and from London in 2006 due to US sanctions
on spare parts. I remember flying one of the last Syrian Air 747s
from London to Damascus: seats were dislodged from the floor and the
descent started hours from Damascus to minimise stress on the plane's
ageing parts.

As the debate rumbles on over escalating sanctions against Iran it
is worth remembering their terrible track record across the region.

Sanctions against Iraq killed thousands of innocents (Columbia's
Richard Garfield estimated the most likely number of excess deaths
among children under five years of age from 1990 to March 1998 to
be 227,000) and allowed Saddam Hussein to control what little was
allowed into the country. Although they were certainly effective in
reducing the capabilities of the Iraqi military, they weakened the
state to such an extent that the 2003 regime change resulted in its
almost total disintegration.

Considering the clear dangers of the failed state/ungoverned space
hypothesis that justifies the Afghan mission, it seems hard to
understand advocating the creation of a similar arena in Iran. The
Foreign Office speaks of a desire to "foster links between the
Iranian people and the British people - there is much potential for
educational, scientific, sporting and cultural exchanges". Obama has
tried desperately, and so far unsuccessfully, to reach out to Iran
and the Iranian people, emphasising the "common humanity that binds
us together" in a New Year message.

Replacing rhetoric with the very real gesture of selling a number of
safe civilian airliners would show that Obama is serious when he says
he wants to improve ties to the Iranian people. As Saeed Kamali Dehghan
recently wrote in the Guardian: "I'm not the Iranian government,
I'm an ordinary Iranian and the sanctions are just crippling me."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress