April 9, 2013

Bridging Divides with the Iranian People

AtlanticCouncilReportWashington, DC – “Even if we solve the nuclear issue, but lose the good will of the Iranian people, we will still not have resolved this issue,” observed Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Barbara Slavin, unveiling a new report last week entitled, “Time to Move from Tactics to Strategy on Iran.”

The report, released just ahead of nuclear talks in Almaty this past weekend that failed to produce an agreement, focuses on revamping the U.S. diplomatic strategy regarding Iran, including by correcting the unintended impacts of sanctions.

Speaking at the report’s release event, Slavin stressed the importance of viewing Iran “not just as a nuclear program, but as a country” and advocated for a pragmatic, “common sense” U.S. approach to Iran that prioritizes diplomacy and strengthened ties with the Iranian people.

Having completed a trip to Iran in August of last year, she expressed concerns that United States policies towards Iran may be jeopardizing what she considers a major strategic asset–the good will of the Iranian people. She recounted that retired Air Force general and former CIA director Michael Hayden had once told her “the Iranians are the most pro-American Muslim population from Marrakesh to Bangladesh,” but that this may no longer be the case due to the impact of sanctions on the Iranian people in recent years. 

“When I was in Iran, many people expressed a great deal of anger, not just at their own government over sanctions–and they do blame their own government for sanctions–but they blame the United States as well,” she observed. “I worry very much that we are losing the good will of the Iranian people.”

As outlined in the report, while inefficiency and corruption on the part of the Iranian government should not be discounted, financial sanctions have in large part disrupted Iran’s trade, including in humanitarian goods. This has had a harmful effect on the health and well-being of many Iranians by reducing the availability of medications and medical supplies, particularly those used to treat cancer and hemophilia. With a significant drop in U.S. and European pharmaceutical shipments as a result of sanctions, there have been many warnings that Iran could experience rising mortality rates similar to what was seen during sanctions in Iraq in the 1990s.

Slavin urged that the U.S. should prevent such unintended consequences and facilitate the free flow of food and other humanitarian goods to the Iranian people bydesignating channels for carefully vetted and authorized transactions licensed by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Current U.S. Treasury Department rules do permit U.S. companies to sell basic medicines and devices to Iran without obtaining a license, but given the scarcity of non-sanctioned banking channels and the small size of the market there, exporters are very reluctant to expose themselves to the risks and hassles of trade with Iran.




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