Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Embargo May Encourage Iran Radicals

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Embargo May Encourage Iran Radicals

Article excerpt

U.S. Embargo May Encourage Iran Radicals

By Shawn L. Twing

President Bill Clinton's April 30 executive order banning all U.S. trade with Iran cited three primary reasons for his decision: Iran's attempts to acquire technology to produce and deliver nuclear weapons; its opposition to the current Israeli-PLO peace process; and Iran's support for international terrorism. The third charge deserves special attention because it demonstrates the way in which Clinton's policy toward Iran will most likely exacerbate a problem that it claims to combat.

In a State Department briefing the day after the announcement of Clinton's policy initiative, Secretary of State Warren Christopher referred to Iran as "the foremost sponsor of terrorism in the world" and the "primary patron of terrorists trying to derail the Arab-Israeli peace process." According to the secretary, Iran backs terrorism across the globe from Latin America to Asia and Europe and "spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to provide radical groups with weapons, equipment, training, and financial support." Among those who receive the most support, according to Christopher, are Hezbollah in Lebanon and the militant Palestinian Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command led by Ahmed Jabril.

A similar effort to gain support for the president's executive order was a May 11 press briefing by senior intelligence officials who spoke candidly about Iran under condition of anonymity. Their message was essentially the same as that of the secretary of state's, but they did not reiterate the claim that Iran was spending "hundreds of millions of dollars" for terrorism. The only information they supplied in this category was that Hezbollah, the primary recipient of Iranian financial support, receives between $50 to $100 million per year from Iran, and support for other groups opposed to the peace process had increased during the last two years. The amount of this increase was not discussed, nor was an overall sum mentioned that could substantiate Christopher's claim.

Another discrepancy in the Clinton administration's official statements about Iran's sponsorship of international terrorism concerns who benefits from Iranian patronage. The Department of State and the panel of intelligence officials who briefed the press both cite Hamas as a recipient. However, Ellen Laipson, director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, didn't even mention Hamas during her May 25 discussion of U.S. policy toward Iran at a seminar sponsored by the Middle East Policy Council.

It is widely acknowledged among Middle East specialists that Hamas receives little, if any, support from Iran. The principle sources of support for Hamas have come from private individuals in the Gulf countries and, to a lesser extent, donors in other parts of the Arab world. The administration's inclusion of Hamas in its list of recipients of Iranian support is based almost exclusively on U.S. and Israeli political interests, not on tangible facts.

Gratuitous Inclusions

Hamas isn't the only gratuitous inclusion in the Clinton administration's statements about Iranian-sponsored terrorism. After the attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the U. …

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