Smart sanctions can support democratic change: U.S.

HOLLYWOOD, Florida Mon Mar 15, 2010 11:35am EDT

A medical student of Cuba's ELAM (Latin American School of Medicine) studies in the campus library on the outskirts of Havana March 11, 2010. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

A medical student of Cuba's ELAM (Latin American School of Medicine) studies in the campus library on the outskirts of Havana March 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Desmond Boylan

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HOLLYWOOD, Florida (Reuters) - Adjusting and even selectively loosening U.S. sanctions against countries like Iran and Cuba can serve foreign policy goals by encouraging democratic change through greater Internet freedom and other means, a U.S. Treasury official said on Monday.

Adam Szubin, director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces U.S. sanctions against designated states, companies and people, told a conference such "smart sanctions" would help the U.S. government further its goals of fostering greater freedom and democracy.

He said Washington last week adjusted its sanctions regimes against Iran, Cuba and Sudan to allow the export by U.S. companies of services and software related to personal communications over the Internet.

This was aimed at increasing the access of citizens in those states to online communications technologies.

"It's exactly what I think OFAC needs to be doing, not simply designating new targets or tightening sanctions, but also loosening sanctions when it can further our foreign policy goals," Szubin said in a keynote address to an international money laundering conference in Hollywood, Florida.

He cited the increased use over the last year of the Internet and social networking sites by opponents of Iran's government to disseminate their anti-government activities.

He said this activity, carried out through online sites and tools like Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging, removed any doubts "that personal communication software and its widespread availability are integral to seeing democratic change come to some of the most oppressive regimes on earth."

"So we are doing our part ... to open that world up to the people of Iran, to the people of Cuba and to the people of Sudan," Szubin said.

Iran remained a top priority in U.S. foreign policy and national security, he said, citing its "pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in contravention of repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions" and its "active role as a supporter of terrorism."

"There is no country in the world that is supporting terrorism as close to the level of Iran and its destabilizing role in the region, in funding, arming and fueling insurgencies and the Taliban," Szubin said.

He said OFAC would seek to make its overall sanctions enforcement more effective by clearly focusing and targeting its actions on major violators.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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