October 3, 2013

THAT'S WHY NOW:

Why Iran Blinked (Ana Palacio, 10/02/13, Project Syndicate)

[T]he Islamic Republic appears eager to end the showdown with the West over its nuclear program.

This shift - and Iran's surprising role as an outlier of hope in a region of disorder - invites reflection on America's global leadership and what the United States can achieve when it uses multilateralism (and transatlanticism in particular) to its full potential. At a time when the US often projects an image of indecision and weakness - reflected in the unfortunate slogan "leading from behind" - Iran exemplifies the potential of an international response with the US leading from the front.

The US has maintained a broad sanctions regime against Iran since the mid-1990's, and has enforced it vigorously - imposing $1.9 billion in penalties on the bank HSBC last year, for example, and blacklisting entities that help Iran evade financial restrictions. But it was only with growing participation by a wide range of countries that the sanctions really began to bite.

This was clearly reflected in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's overwhelming election victory in June. Rouhani campaigned on a pledge to pursue "constructive engagement" with the international community. His early momentum and the apparent support - or at least tolerance - of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reflect Iranians' weariness with international isolation and their bitterness over the economic havoc that ever-tightening sanctions have wrought.

The international sanctions imposed on Iran have grown tighter, of course, as their leaks have been sealed. After overcoming its initial reticence, the European Union significantly strengthened its punitive approach toward Iranian entities connected to nuclear activities (though recent court rulings have cast doubt on some measures). More important, at the EU's request, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) decided in 2012 to remove 14 Iranian banks from its network (which is the leading conduit of international electronic interbank transactions). The desire to reverse this measure reportedly has been a key factor behind Iran's diplomatic change of course.


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Posted by at October 3, 2013 4:32 AM
  

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