Friday, July 29, 2011

Is Obama Finally Getting Tougher With Iran?

That is the position of an editorial in the Washington Times: Obama gets tough on Tehran:
The Obama administration is going where no White House has gone before: directly accusing Iran of supporting al Qaeda. This long overdue move to get tough on Tehran deserves to be applauded.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on six al Qaeda operatives based in Kuwait, Qatar, Pakistan and - significantly - Iran. The U.S. government accused Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a “prominent Iran-based al Qaeda facilitator,” of operating his network with the complicity and cooperation of the Tehran government. “This network serves as the core pipeline through which al Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia,” according to Treasury, “including to Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a key al Qaeda leader based in Pakistan.” Mr. Al-Rahman, who reports directly to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, was also named in the action.
The new sanctions are not being imposed on Iran--instead they are being imposed on the al Qaeda operatives there. That doesn't seem to amount to putting pressure on Tehran.

Even the way it is being described by the Obama administration does not make this sound like the US is getting tougher with Iran:
David S. Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, explained, “By exposing Iran’s secret deal with al Qaeda, allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism.”
The focus is on "illuminating" what Iran is up to--not applying sanctions to stop it.

Of course, making the al Qaeda connection is the first step to getting support for additional sanctions against Iran, but I wouldn't get overly excited until the Obama administration actually started applying sanctions that we can see are having a real effect.

The White House has not scored a knockout with its sanctions, any more than it has been successful with its stronger measures--such as the aerial bombings over Libya.

And besides, based on past experience, there will be limits to how much backing Obama will get from countries such as Russia and China.

In fact, J.E. Dyer writes that the Russians are already taking advantage of that in fighting a bill sponsored by John McCain and Benjamin Cardin that would deny US visas to specific Russian officials as well as freeze their assets in America:
The Russians have warned the Obama administration about what will happen if the Senate goes through with the McCain-Cardin bill. And the Obama State Department has in turn conveyed that warning to the Senate:
Senior Russian government officials have warned us that they will respond asymmetrically if this legislation passes. Their argument is that we cannot expect them to be our partner in supporting sanctions against countries like Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and sanction them at the same time. Russian officials have said that other areas of bilateral cooperation, including on transit to Afghanistan, could be jeopardized if this legislation passes.
The administration revealed yesterday that it has “quietly” placed a number of Russian officials on a no-visa list – “without,” as the New York Times delicately puts it, “official notification to the Russians.” [emphasis added]
So it is a good first that the Obama is taking against Iran in increasing the pressure--but let's first see if the Obama administration has the wherewithal to actually follow through with this before getting all excited.

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