Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which removed from power the close U.S. ally Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the United States virtually stopped all its trade and business transactions with Iran after branding it a state sponsor of terrorism. Iran’s economy was not significantly dependent on the United States, and it could make important achievements with time, even to the extent of becoming the world’s 15th economic power in terms of nominal GDP in 2009.
However, as the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program become more serious in the early 2000s, the United States used the West’s skepticism on Iran’s nuclear program as an opportunity to ratchet up the sanctions and mount pressure on Iran with the ultimate objective of isolating the country and preventing it from becoming a serious regional superpower in the Middle East, where the United States had invested a great deal of capital, human resources and reputation.
The sanctions were renewed and increased every year, and now the United States penalizes every foreign firm which invests in Iran’s energy sector or does major trade with the Islamic Republic. The European Union has also followed in the U.S. footsteps and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. Since July 1, 2012, an EU oil embargo went into effect which prevented the EU member states from buying Iran’s crude. The sanctions have even targeted Iran’s mass media, insurance, transportation, aviation and medical sector and are troubling the country’s economy a great deal.
However, the Iranian people have withstood all the foreign pressures and tolerated the economic hardships to demonstrate that they stand by their country. President Barack Obama came to the White House in 2008 while he had promised to take up reconciliation and détente with Iran, but one of the first decisions he made was to renew the U.S. annual sanctions against Iran.
In order to study the impact of the sanctions on Iran’s economy, their contribution to the deterioration of Iran-West relations and their violation of the basic human rights of the Iranian people, Iran Review has started to do interviews with prominent academics, thinkers, political commentators and authors and explore their viewpoints on the anti-Iranian sanctions.
Today we have discussed the anti-Iran sanctions with former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Mike Gravel. Mike Gravel is a former Democratic Senator from Alaska, who served two terms from 1969 to 1981. He was also a Member of the Alaska House of Representatives from the 8th district from 1963 to 1967. Gravel is a critic of the U.S. foreign policy.
A few months before United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went on a secret mission to the People’s Republic of China in July 1971, Gravel introduced a draft legislation to recognize and normalize relations with China, including a proposal for unity talks between China and Republic of China (Taiwan) regarding the China’s seat at the United Nations.
What follows is the text of Iran Review’s exclusive interview with former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel about the sanctions imposed against Iran by the United States and its allies, controversy over Tehran’s nuclear program, Israel’s war threats against Iran and the way the sanctions are affecting the lives of Iranian people.
Q: The United States claims that the aim of the sanctions is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; however, the sanctions have swiftly diverted from nuclear disarmament and targeted the daily life of the Iranians in terms of their access to medicine, foodstuff and other goods. What do you think about the sanctions and the way they are affecting Iranians?
A: First of all, I think the sanctions are illegal and improper. Iran has very clearly stated, as the Supreme Leader has said, that the Quran does not allow the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, like nuclear weapons. So they clearly have stated that they have no intention of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and so if that is the problem, then the American government cannot accept things with face value and have other agendas. There’s nothing illegal that Iran is doing with respect to its nuclear energy production. I personally think it’s a mistake and that they should be concentrating on alternate sources of energy like hydro, photovoltaic, wind energy, etc. They would be cheaper, better and more efficient for the people of Iran. But this is a program that was started by the United States, sold to the Shah when he was in power, and fortunately was continued after the revolution and now it is a point of pride that the people have a right to do this, and they do have that right. But by the same token, they should not make the mistake that the United States has made or other countries have made in this regard.
Q: Do you think that the sanctions conform to the standards, mechanisms and demands of the globalized economy?
A: Not at all. The sanctions are purely illegal. There’s no reason to sanction Iran. Iran has not gone to war with anybody; Iran is a peaceful nation. They are pursuing their own line of self-interest and for them, being sanctioned by the United States and the European countries is really preposterous and there’s no logic in the sanctions. I hope that eventually this will be corrected, but right now, I can’t believe how bad it is.
Q: Don’t you think that targeting Iran’s civilian population through banning humanitarian goods and basic staples is some kind of violation of human rights by the United States and its allies?
A: Of course it is. Why should medicine be above this kind of activity? We have sanctioned the Cubans for 50 years and it’s a total injustice. Now the United States is committing the same crime it has done against Cuba because of the Cuban exiles in Miami and now we have the sanctions because Israel feels that Iran should not exist as a normal nation.
Q: It’s almost evident, and some Russian officials have also admitted that the aim of the sanctions is not just to hinder Iran’s nuclear program, but to create a social unrest which can result in a regime change in Iran. What’s your viewpoint about this analysis? How much accurate is it?
A: That is the purpose of the sanctions, to bring about regime change. As I said, they’ve done this to Cuba for 50 years, and never brought about regime change. They’ve done this for more than 24 years to North Korea, and there was no regime change. The sanctions are not only illegal, but they are also ineffective. It’s an interesting situation. Iran is damaged, but it’s also benefited. What is done is that they have forced the Iranian economy, which I look around and see is very prosperous, to turn internally and develop its own manufacturing. It acts as a long-term advantage. Other than medical equipments and medicines which have become somehow inconvenient for Iranians to get access to, the other factors are in Iran’s favor, and that’s an unintended consequence of the sanctions; because they have lowered the value of the money, the exports of Iran are much more competitive in the world marketplace than they have ever been. So, stupid policies sometimes beget interesting results.
Q: Some experts believe that something around 15-20% of the current price of the oil is a result of the EU’s oil embargo. How much has the oil embargo influenced the European continent’s troubled economy in the face of the current depression and crisis?
A: I’m not an expert on that specific aspect of the EU’s economy. I do know that EU economy has a problem, just like the United States has a problem economically because we are controlled by the bankrupts who control the money supply and as we saw, with the meltdown in the United States and with the austerity programs in Europe, we had a terrible situation. The bankers made a mistake, and we punished the people through austerity programs to pay back the bankers who shouldn’t have made such a large amount of assets in the first place.
Q: Currently, a number of the world countries implement the sanctions, but the rest evade the sanctions and continue doing business with Iran. Don’t you think that it will create economic opportunities for the countries which somehow circumvent the sanctions and maintain their trade with Iran?
A: Of course they will, and that’s of course the failure of the United States. I’m just looking around Iran, and can’t believe the number of cranes working on the building going up, the highway constructions, etc. This is a modern, vibrant and prosperous country. So the sanctions are illegal and improper, but the countries like China and Russia which choose to continue trade with Iran will benefit. And I also noticed French automobiles on the roads. So what’s going on is that the United States punishes its own business interests in this regard and the sanctions are totally ineffective.
Q: Complementing the sanctions with serious threats of military strike and doing intelligence operations inside Iran are the objectives which Israel is trying to persuade the United States and its European allies to follow. How much successful have they been in realizing these goals?
A: Firstly, the threats made by Israel and the United States at this point of time are very disturbing. When you say that the United States draws a red line, which Netanyahu established, that Iranians can’t go beyond, Iran said that it doesn’t want to build a weapon. The Iranians aren’t doing anything illegal with respect to their generation of nuclear power; I indicated it during my visit repeatedly that I think it’s a mistake to produce energy that way, but they are not doing anything illegal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and of course Israel is not even a member of that and hasn’t recognized it. They make the false complain that IAEA should make a series of investigations of Iran, but at the same time, they haven’t even signed the treaty themselves. The position of Iran is to lead an effort to make a nuclear-free Middle East, and I think that’s what should happen, and of course the main violator of that concept which is legitimate and proper is Israel.
Q: And finally, what do you think about Israel’s war threats on Iran? It seems that they want to persuade the United States and European nations to impose harder sanctions on Iran. What’s your viewpoint on that?
A: I think it’s terrible and shows how we are being led around by the nose by the leadership of Israel. It applies to not only the United States, but also Europe. It’s shameful.
Kourosh Ziabari - March 6, 2013
Journalist, writer and media correspondent