Commentary Magazine


Turkey Augments Iran Trade

It’s hard to believe that anyone—outside the White House—takes President Obama seriously anymore. It’s crystal clear that foreign leaders think that the U.S. president is a paper tiger. Enemies calculate that the former senator leading a team of former senators is heavy on rhetoric but light on action. And friends, too, understand that at best Obama is a nice prop around which to take a photo, but when push comes to shove they need not listen to him.

Put aside Obama’s willful abandonment of his Syria chemical weapons red line, an “I told you so moment” for hardliners from Pyongyang to Tehran to Caracas and perhaps Buenos Aires, who are likely now chastising any handwringing moderates who worried what crossing Washington might have cost. Friends, too, are getting in on the game. In just a couple weeks, Obama will be hosting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the White House, never mind that Erdoğan snubbed the U.S. request that he cancel a planned trip to the Gaza Strip to meet with Hamas leaders, a group which Erdoğan has long supported.

Key to Obama’s strategy on Iran is to simultaneously reach out to Iran and sanction the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, never mind that the most effective sanctions for which Obama now takes credit were passed against his objection. Turkey has long been the biggest leak in the sanctions regime, helping Iran bypass restrictions by exchanging gold (and ships) for oil. Despite this, Obama has consistently issued Turkey waivers, despite the fact that such waivers are only meant for governments making good-faith efforts to extricate themselves from dependence on Iranian crude.

While Turkish gold transfers to Iran declined slightly in January—something to which proponents in the White House of business-as-usual could point—the latest reports from Turkey suggest that the gold trade is again thriving. Reports Hürriyet Daily News:

Turkey’s gold exports Iran has rose more than twofold through March during a time its overall gold trade receded, suggesting the two countries’ trade of gold for natural gas has been continuing increasingly after a one-month halt in January. Turkey exported almost $381 million worth of gold to Iran in March, Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK) data showed, while the overall Turkish gold exports declined by 15 percent to $467.6 million. The exports to Iran and United Arab Emirates (UAE) have undertaken 92 percent of the country’s overall exports.

Erdoğan is visiting the White House later this month, a visit that Turks interpret as Obama endorsement of Turkey’s policies. Perhaps it is time for Congress to stand up where the White House won’t and offer the Turkish leader some pointed criticism so that he understands just what damage he does to the Middle East with his tacit support for terrorist groups and Iranian proliferation. Obama may shirk his responsibility to restore American credibility, but that is no reason for Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton, and other potential candidates for president in 2016 to do so.