Western sanctions on Iran don't seem to be slowing its nuclear development, but they are beating up the country's middle class. Iran's currency, the rial, has rapidly lost considerable value leading to a booming black market in US dollars, and prized economic sectors are feeling the pain.
Last week the US ratcheted up pressure on Iranian government holdings and its central bank, and a European Union-led oil embargo is in the wind. The ever-increasing regime of sanctions is a far cry from the diplomatic outreach the Obama administration promised three years ago. And if the target is Iran's nuclear programme, it doesn't seem to be working.
“So you kill the pistachio trade in Iran,” one businessman recently told a New York Times reporter in Tehran. “How does that stop nuclear enrichment?”
Sanctions tend to be thought of as an alternative to combat. In reality, they are often its precursor. Top officials in a targeted regime escape their bite, ordinary people suffer and hardliners are emboldened.
In his NYT article Robert Worth details the effects sanctions are having on the ground:
Already, the last round of sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank has begun inflicting unprecedented damage on Iran’s private sector, traders and analysts say, making it so hard to transfer money abroad that even affluent businessmen are sometimes forced to board planes carrying suitcases full of American dollars.
Yet this economic burden is falling largely on the middle class, raising the prospect of more resentment against the West and complicating the effort to deter Iran’s nuclear program — a central priority for the Obama administration in this election year.
Further watching: Here's Vali Nasr, Tufts University professor and former State Department adviser, on the danger of sanctions: