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The real issue with Iran sanctions

Paul Richter of the LA Times reports that China, India, Russia, and Turkey are rushing to cut energy deals in Iran despite the recently passed U.N., U.S., and Europe sanctions -- a story that will come as a shock only to those who haven't been paying attention.

Many folks seem to be reading the article as proof that the sanctions aren't working. Well, maybe.  As you can see here, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn't have a very good answer as to what the administration is doing to convince China to be more cooperative.

What we don't know is whether the actions of Iran's new friends outweigh whatever bite the sanctions are providing. For that, we'll need a lot more than the anecdotal evidence we've seen so far -- but we probably won't get it.

A few weeks back, I asked a senior administration official how we'd know that the sanctions were working. I expected him to talk about oil and gas deals drying up, insurers staying away, and so on. Instead, what he said was: We'll know it when Iran comes to the table, seeking to cut a deal.

That's probably the right way to look at it. According to Iran analyst Gary Sick, the key question isn't whether the sanctions are biting, but "whether Iran is capable under its present leadership to take a sober decision about how to deal with the outside world."

So far, most signs point to no.

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