Overhauling the Iran Sanctions Act

Overhauling the Iran Sanctions Act

As President-elect Barack Obama's national security team prepares to take office in January, the Turkish government is readying to outflank the U.S.'s Iran policy on a vast scale, having signed a milestone agreement in November to invest $12 billion in Iran's energy sector. The move presents an immediate conflict between Washington's efforts to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions and its desire to wean Europe from Russian energy dependence. As a result, the Obama administration will be forced to choose between overhauling American efforts to isolate Iran or inviting a sour demonstration of America's waning influence among close allies.

As part of the announced deal, Turkey will expand Iran's production capacity and ultimately gain access to 13 billion cubic meters a year of Iranian natural gas -- enough to cover the current imports of Greece, Romania and Bulgaria combined. The deal advances Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's efforts to transform his country into a vital energy hub for Europe and sends an alarming signal to Washington: the old diplomatic tools are not working.

The Turkey-Iran agreement comes at a time when many EU members, particularly in Central Europe, grow wary of their dependence on Russian energy imports. This vulnerability became apparent in July 2008, when Russia halved its oil deliveries to the Czech Republic on the day it signed a key missile defense agreement with the United States. Unfortunately, most EU members lack immediate alternatives to Russian energy. This has led countries like Germany to accept the uncertainty of a devil's bargain with the Kremlin rather than risk expected gas shortages in the future.

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