Sanctions Watch

A NATO official let CNN in on a bit of juicy intel yesterday—Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are not, as widely rumored, holed up in a cave somewhere. Al-Qaeda’s head honchos are instead living relatively comfortably in northwest Pakistan. The unnamed official put it bluntly, “Nobody in al Qaeda is living in a cave.” Richard Holbrooke is on damage control. He commented, “We hardly have a day that goes by where somebody doesn't say they know where Osama bin Laden is.” And CIA Direct Leon Panetta said a few months ago that Washington doesn’t know bin Laden’s whereabouts, only that he is “in very deep hiding.”

And Holbrooke had a bit more to add about Iran’s presence at yesterday’s Afghanistan strategy session. In the special representative’s words, the meeting was “living refutation of the clash of civilizations” that the Taliban and al-Qaeda like to reference.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary of terrorism and financial intelligence is off to Turkey and Azerbaijan. Stuart Levey is in Iran’s neighborhood trying to strengthen the new sanctions regime. The two countries are potential weak link. Azerbaijan, with its close cultural ties to Tehran, might supply the country with gasoline, but Turkey is the central concern. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Ankara intends to set up preferential trade agreements with Iran and triple its trade with the country over the next five years. That certainly doesn’t sound like sanctions.

China also has potential sanctions breakers in its midst. The State Department’s Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Robert Einhorn sent Beijing a list of companies that are suspected to be in violation of the UNSC resolution. China though swears it is doing its best.

On another Turkey front, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is trying to avoid stepping on toes while speaking about the proposal to extend NATO’s missile defense shield. The extension would in the best of worlds include Turkey, but Gates stressed that “Contrary to some press reports, we are not pressuring Turkey to make a contribution.” Turkey is concerned that joining the missile-defense system could harm those close ties it has with Iran and also endanger its relationship with Russia. The missile shield is meant to defend against threats from Tehran, and Moscow stands in opposition to the system.