The American government has been trying to shut down Iran’s nuclear program for three and a half years. They’ve used diplomacy, sanctions, cyber warfare, and yesterday, the Obama administration and its allies put in place the strictest and furthest reaching sanctions yet.
The European Union has enacted a complete embargo on oil imports from Iran. And the U.S. has put in place sanctions to punish any country that buys Iranian oil. David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times and author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power," has been following the story.
"A Rubicon has been crossed," Sanger says. "In the past, very few of [the sanctions] have gone after oil revenues. The Iranians themselves said last week that oil revenues are down between 20-30%, and that was before this full embargo went into effect." The United States has provided some leeway for 20 countries who import Iranian oil by issuing waivers that grant permission to keep importing from Iran without being penalized. China, a major importer, is on the list. "The question is, is this really going to make a big political difference to the mullahs who, so far, have been resistant to this pressure?" Sanger says.
Concerns that prices would soar if the Iranian oil supply were removed from the global market have been ameliorated by American and European efforts to expand production elsewhere around the world. "They got the Saudis to pump more, Libya's come back online a little faster than people had expected, Iraq has come back online finally," Sanger says.
The correspondent also credits the global recession for giving added weight to the embargo against Iranian oil. "In southern Europe, the recession has meant that less Iranian oil is being imported, and of course the Chinese have been slowing down as well," Sanger says. "It's bad news for the world economy, but it's been good news for the sanctions."
However Iran reacts, the reverberations will be felt in U.S. domestic politics, especially during the upcoming presidential race, as Mitt Romney has criticized the President's stance on Iran as too soft. A lot will depend on the reaction of the sanctioned nation. "If the Iranians decided to lash out in response, and attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz and create a crisis, that could also create a political issue," Sanger says.