As details continue to trickle out on the Iran nuclear agreement, supporters of easing economic sanctions on Cuba have wasted little time making parallel arguments that a deal could also be in the works for Cuba. An exemplar from left-leaning Univision’s new station, Fusion:
“… considering this week’s landmark nuclear deal with Iran, there might be reason to think that the Cuban embargo, the United States’ single longest-standing foreign policy, could end … But as the U.S. strategy of non-engagement with Iran comes to a close, there are positive signs that the deal might reverse some of that sentiment and breathe new life into the dynamics of the Middle East …,” Fusion.
Before talking Cuba, these conclusory statements by Fusion merit a clarification. Or two. Or three.
First, the U.S., a member of the P5+1, has been talking with the Iranian regime for years, albeit not in secret. The past year does appear to have been a more quieter, out of public view series of sessions. While the outcome of this latest round of talks may be somewhat unique, it is not a “landmark” deal. Far from it.
Second, the concessions granted the Iranian regime will not, as the author suggests, bring to a close the U.S. strategy of isolation. The release of foreign monies, not in U.S. hands, is for money owed Iran for petroleum sales. The easing of U.S. sanctions appears to be limited to spare parts and services for the Iranian airline industry as well as some other, seemingly, minor concessions yet to be clarified by the Treasury Department. Even Iran seems confused about what it agreed to.
Finally, with regards to Cuba, details matter. A lot.
As former Secretary of State Madeline Albright said in the 1990s when pressed on engaging Communist China but sanctioning Communist Cuba: the U.S. does “not have a cookie-cutter approach to policy. China is a world power. . . . Cuba is an embarrassment to the Western Hemisphere.” The same analysis holds for Cuba/Iran. Cuba is not Iran. Iran is not Cuba. The policy equities are very different.
Read the law, especially the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act as well as the Cuban Democracy Act. The policy is clearly laid out. Cuba knows what it needs to do to secure an easing of U.S. sanctions.
While Fusion tries to imply otherwise, the United States does not make foreign policy decisions on domestic polling data. Fusion cites an inaccurate and, frankly embarrassing poll from my undergraduate alma mater, Florida International University. The FIU poll states that a majority of Americans of Cuban ancestry believe that U.S. sanctions have not worked at all. This is simply not true. (Side note: This is the same university where several Cuban spies worked for decades masquerading as professors. When it comes to Cuba policy, FIU has had a challenged past with regards to impartiality).
Cuba needs access to the United States market, desperately. It owes the U.S. billions of dollars in certified claims as well as debt. The regime is waging an extremely disproportional espionage campaign against U.S. and commercial interests. And it has earned a spot as a state-sponsor of terrorism.
If the Obama Administration has been engaging in secret talks with the Cuban regime, it will need to contend with a rather robust statutory wall not present in the Iran case. The Executive is granted a great deal of legal authority in this arena, but the power is not absolute. Unless it thinks it can violate the law, nothing with regards to Cuba will change anytime soon. Nor should it.