X

News & Publications

July 9, 2008

The (Neglected) Ties that Bind

A huge majority of the stories on Iran are about the nuclear issue and how the US, Israel and the EU are dealing with a uranium-enriching ‘rogue’ state. Rarely are other aspects of the relationship analyzed closely, but recently they have come under the microscope again, as details of American exports to Iran, talk of a ‘special interests section’ and Israel’s pistachio ordeal have come to light.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the US has exported and continues to export hundreds of millions of dollars in commodities to Iran. Other news outlets quickly picked up the story from the wire and it has consequently been plastered all over the news (though it was put on the backburner because of this morning’s missile tests by the Iranian government).
Over the past eight years of the Bush Administration and its ‘axis of evil’ rhetoric, the number of exports has increased “tenfold,” including $158 million worth of cigarettes alone. When prompted for his thoughts on all the cigarette exports, presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ) remarked – in a highly un-presidential fashion – “maybe that’s a way of killing them.” After quickly getting poked in the back by his wife, Cindy, the Senator claimed that he meant it as a “joke.” He then added to his alarming comment that he wanted to look into it, as this was the first he’d heard of it. I am not an economist, but I know that if the US were to ease economic sanctions, Americans and Iranians would benefit from increased trade. It is possible to sanction the Iranian government without harming the people.
Other commodities exported from the US include brassieres, bull semen, fur clothing, sculptures, perfume, musical instruments and military apparel. For the record, bull semen is used for commercial livestock breeding. These all fall under the few types of commodities that can be sold to Iran under strict guidelines. American sellers need to have permission from the Treasury Department to export to Iran, and few businesses that apply are turned down. Even so, the US is not the only country that allows its citizens to conduct trade.
Indeed, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post posted an AP article in late November divulging that Israel is a huge importer of Iranian pistachios. The Israelis claim they are from Turkey. It is clear, though, that they’re originally from Iran and only shipped via Turkey. The US has urged Israel to stop those imports. The spokesman for the Embassy in Tel Aviv, Stewart Tuttle, has said that he prefers Israel to import American pistachios, as they come from his native California (the second largest pistachio producer after Iran). Although I am deeply loyal to the Golden State and all its agricultural products, clearly even the Israelis can’t deny the great taste of Iranian pistachios.
Furthermore, at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s behest, the US is looking into opening a special interests section in Tehran, similar to the US’s office in Havana. The Islamic Republic has a special interests section here in DC – officially it is a branch of the Embassy of Pakistan but it has its own office. Currently, American interests in Iran are handled by the Swiss Embassy there.
Here are my questions for you: What do you think of John McCain’s comments? Should the US open a special interests section in Tehran? Are Iranian pistachios better – can you blame the Israelis?

Back to top