Opinion

The Great Debate

Turkey cashes in on the Iran talks

You may have thought the Geneva deal struck last month between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) was a sweet one for Tehran — getting billions in sanctions relief in exchange for mere promises to halt its nuclear program.

But Turkey may be an even bigger winner. It just needs to open its doors and wait for Iranian funds to pour in.

Iran was Turkey’s third largest export market in 2012. In fact, Turkey is reportedly exporting more than 20,000 products to Iran right now; among them gold and silver. It turns out that the Geneva deal also loosened sanctions on precious metals.

The White House estimates that this, along with the easing of sanctions in the automobile and petrochemical sectors, could generate $1.5 billion in government revenues for Tehran. But that’s a lowball estimate. Turkey exploited a “golden loophole,” as Roubini Gobal Economics and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies reported earlier this year, and helped Iran evade sanctions for about a half a year. Gold imports from Turkey to Iran in 2012 reached as high as $1.6 billion per month. In other words, if gold sanctions relief is given for six months, using the past as a guide, Iran has the potential to pocket an estimated $9.6 billion if gas-for-gold resumes.

The Geneva deal does not permit Turkey to restart gas-for-gold. It does, however, allow Iran to buy Turkish gold with available cash. Questions remain as to whether Iran will look to be paid in gold and how much gold Turkey is prepared to sell after effectively emptying its coffers to Iran the last time around.

Syria: What happened to diplomacy?

There is a bizarre quality to the U.S. public debate about bombing Syria. Much time and effort has been spent analyzing President Barack Obama’s decision to finally call for a vote in Congress: whether this was a wise choice; what the repercussions of an attack may be; the (il)legality of acting without a United Nations Security Council mandate; the moral case for bombing, and the strategic case for restraint.

But almost no attention has been paid to a fundamental question: Have all other options been exhausted?

Obama has presented the American public with a false binary choice: taking military action or doing nothing.

In Syria, try banks before bombs

As President Barack Obama weighs the U.S. response to chemical weapons attacks against Syrian civilians, one soft power option should still be at top of his to-do list: cutting off access to the U.S. financial system to those doing business with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Russian banks and others are reported to be helping the Assad regime circumvent U.S. and EU sanctions by holding Syrian money while continuing to do business, legally, in the Europe Union and the United States. With a more aggressive and coordinated approach to financial sanctions, Obama could inflict serious capital damage on Assad’s enablers — without collateral damage in the form of slain or injured civilians.

Aggressive sanctions could be more effective than bombing in hastening the end of the Syrian civil war by imposing substantial financial costs on those who are propping up Assad — without enraging the Arab street.

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