- - Sunday, November 18, 2018


There’s a fierce war going on out there, but it usually gets scarce attention because the weapons don’t make much noise. It’s a war of economics, and noise or not, it raises wide-ranging issues with America’s European allies.

The United States announced additional sanctions last week against second and third countries purchasing Iranian oil, albeit with temporary waivers to eight nations, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Greece, Japan, China, India and Italy. Several of these countries had already made sharp reductions in purchases of Iranian oil. The waivers added further tension to American relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, as Washington pushes for Riyadh to shed full light on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“The Saudis feel they were completely snookered by Trump,” one source says. “They did everything to increase oil supply, assuming Washington would push for very harsh Iranian sanctions. And they didn’t get any heads up from the U.S. that sanctions on Iran would be eased.”

The United States blocked an attempt by Russia to ease the U.N. sanctions on North Korea for what the Russians claimed was an effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the impoverished nation. Nikki Haley, then the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., accused Russia of cloaking an attempt to lift sanctions on North Korea’s banking sector as a “humanitarian” gesture. She vowed that the United States would continue to stand in Russia’s way.

The sanctions imposed in 2016 generally apply to “U.S. Persons,” a term which includes American citizens and permanent resident aliens, persons physically in the United States regardless of citizenship, U.S. organizations and their branches, and any foreign organization owned or controlled by a “U.S. Person.”

The nations the United States currently has sanctions and embargoes against include Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Cuba. In 1979, after a mob of radical students, encouraged if not organized by the government, attacked the U.S. embassy in Tehran, President Jimmy Carter ordered a freeze of Iranian assets. These sanctions were tightened in later years, and have resulted in increased prices of basic goods in Iran, and have made it more difficult for Iran to market its principal export, oil and petroleum products.

The sanctions against North Korea date from June 25, 1950, when the forces of Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of the current maximum leader in Pyongyang, rolled across the 38th Parallel to invade South Korea, igniting the Korean War. Washington imposed severe economic sanctions to accompany fierce fighting on the battlefield, tightening the sanctions after an armistice quieted the battlefield. More sanctions followed after Kim Jong-un began to develop nuclear-tipped nuclear weapons and threatened to drop them on American cities. Sanctions apply to a variety subjects, the latest imposed in 2016 after a North Korean cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Syria were suspended in 2012, and numerous sanctions and executive orders have been issued since against Syrian citizens and companies for engagement in terrorism, public corruption, and meddling in Lebanon and Iraq. “U.S. Persons,” as described in diplo-speak, are prohibited from engaging in the Syrian petroleum trade as well as investing in Syria.

Diplomatic relations between Sudan and the United States deteriorated after Sudan’s continued support for officially identified terrorist organizations, including Palestinian and Libyan terrorists. The sanctions were initially introduced following Sudan’s support for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, participation in the Pan-Arab Islamic Conference, and for providing sanctuary to international terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, Carlos the Jackal and Abu Nidal. There has been a resumption of U.S.-Sudan military ties, however, and the opening of a CIA office in Khartoum, which is the largest CIA office in the Middle East.

Washington first issued sanctions against Cuba in 1960 during the Cold War and Cuba’s alliance with the old Soviet Union. The sanctions followed the gradual take-over of private sector industries, most of them American-owned. Following secret negotiations between Cuba and President Barack Obama, some of the travel restrictions were eased as well as restrictions on associations working agreements with Cuban banks. Mr. Obama removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

China and Russia have both publicly called for further relaxation of restrictions as a recognition that North Korea has made concessions to the United States in negotiations aimed at ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. Britain and France have supported the American position that sanctions should stay in place until North Korea actually starts to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. Deeds, not words.

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