Sanctions that backfired U.S. unilateralism: Forcing others to boycott Iran and Libya has reverse effect.

August 16, 1996

THE FIRST ISLAMIC prime minister of Turkey, Necmettin Erbakan, won parliamentary extension of the right of U.S. planes to use Turkish bases to over-fly Iraq. But that done, he set off on a tour of Islamic Asian countries, starting with Iran. And there he sealed a 20-year massive deal to pipe Iran's natural gas to Turkey. First they must build the pipeline.

Official Washington is shocked to learn that other nations do not accept its dictation of their policies. This deal mocks the silly bill cynically signed into law by President Clinton compelling him to impose sanctions against any firm investing more than $40 million in the petroleum industries of Iran or Libya, which are declared to be supporting terrorism. The latest deal may not spurn the letter of that law, however, as trade is not forbidden and the $1 billion infrastructural investment to which Turkey committed itself is in Turkey. The Clinton (or Dole) administration would be well advised to conclude that the law does not apply.

Many governments friendly to the U.S. as well as others protest the effrontery of the U.S. in presuming to legislate for their citizens. The European Union did, threatening retaliation. China tsk-tsked. But the cut that hurts is Turkey's. Yet the relationship of Iranian natural gas production to Turkish consumption makes economic sense. The gas is nearer Turkey than its current supplies in Russia and Algeria.

Iran is a growing power in the region, as the U.S. wanted it to be when the shah was in charge. It is recuperating from self-inflicted wounds made by its ruling theocrats. Turkey and Iran are natural rivals, but have common interests. And now coalition politics has given Turkey a prime minister, supported by only one-fifth of its people, who wants to make the state Islamic.

Maintaining good relations with this government, which is in coalition with secularists and more moderate than other Islamic regimes, is a must for Washington. Turkey's strong army bolsters NATO and cooperates with Israel. In the long run, Turkey will want to be Western. The U.S. should help that tradition survive the current episode, not provoke its overturn.

The new U.S. law was never a serious foreign or even anti-terrorist policy. Real economic sanctions are agreed multilaterally, usually through the United Nations. This was just grandstanding for the home folks in an election year. But it is counter-productive, harmful and irresponsible.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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