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In announcing new sanctions against an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Bush administration officials took pains Thursday to offer assurances on that at least for now, the United States is not going to war with Iran.

“We do not believe that conflict is inevitable,” said R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs. “This decision today supports the diplomacy and in no way, shape or form does it anticipate the use of force.”

The move designated the Quds force of the Revolutionary Guard and four state-owned Iranian banks as supporters of terrorism, and the Guard itself as an illegal exporter of ballistic missiles. The decision thus raised the temperature in American’s ongoing confrontation with Iran over terrorism and nuclear weapons.

But it also reflected some caution by an administration that has also accused the Quds force of aiding Shiite militia attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and has even detained some Quds force members there, but has so far resisted calls for retaliatory strikes inside Iran.

“This is a warning shot across the bow, not that the U.S. is going to invade Iran, but that Iran has pushed the level of escalation, particularly inside Iraq, to unacceptable levels,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“In many ways this kind of warning is more a demonstration of restraint than a signal that we’re going to war.”

Still, after 18 months in which the administration has touted the virtues of collective action against Iran by the United States and its allies, the sanctions mark a major turn toward unilateralism.

The shift represents a tacit acknowledgment that the diplomatic strategy pressed most vigorously by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been ineffective, and it prompted fresh criticism on Thursday from Russia: “Why make the situation worse, bring it to a dead end, threaten sanctions or even military action?” President Vladimir V. Putin asked, in a report by Agence France-Presse.