The new sanctions that Britain slapped on Iran this week are a welcome first step for renewed pressure on the Islamic republic.
The government did not wait for the UN to arouse from its slumber or its EU colleagues to find a suitable time — in between the Lisbon Treaty distraction and the apres-Solana lottery — to agree on which sanctions they would apply if Barack Obama fails to engage Iran (don’t hold your breath!).
Following the example of its US counterpart, the Treasury targeted two key instruments Iran uses to illicitly procure for its nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes — Bank Mellat and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL).
Targeting more entities without waiting for an international consensus means that Britain — which is, with France, at the forefront of the pro-sanctions governments in Europe — has lost either confidence or patience in the diplomatic process.
It also indicates that there are measures that can be adopted unilaterally.
Iran’s banking sector has only partially been hit across Europe. Its procurement companies — such as Kala Naft — still operate freely in many European capitals, London included. Insurance premiums on its ships have not gone high enough. Iranian airlines are still landing at European airports and Iranian regime stalwarts still enjoy VIP status when they travel to Europe.
All these are areas where the resolve of a single country to put a ban and slap sanctions can hurt Iran’s rulers considerably. Let us hope that this first step, coming as Russia turned its back on sanctions and President Obama’s engagement efforts are failing to yield any result of significance, is followed by more action soon.