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Shutdown May Affect Middle East

Lior Haykeen |
October 4, 2013 | 12:25 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The government shutdown inflicted on the United States since Tuesday does not only influence American citizens, but could also impact U.S. standing in the Arab world and have serious implications on Middle East countries and refugees, according to lawmakers and experts.

It is no secret that the Middle East is experiencing hectic times –the latest nuclear weapons concerns with Iran, attacks in Syria and an ongoing revolution in Egypt.

And now, just as U.S.-Iran negotiations recommenced, the American Treasury Department was forced to furlough more than 85 percent of employees monitoring illicit activity and enforcing sanctions on Iran’s nuclear activity in its Office of Terrorist Financing and Intelligence (TFI), according to the Daily Beast. 

Strict U.S. sanctions carried out over the last few years is the reason the Iranians are now prepared to negotiate meeting their international obligations and their position on nuclear weapons, Obama said Monday after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Pressures must be kept in place and even strengthened as new negotiations with the Iranians begin,” Netanyahu responded. “Strong sanctions are the only formula that can get a peaceful resolution of this problem.” But the furloughs may make this a difficult task.

For now, 315 out of the 345 employees in TF'‘s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) are furloughed. Twenty of them will go back to work if the shutdown continues longer than five days, according to FinCEN’s shutdown plan. 

This means that employees will not be responding to requests for foreign law enforcement investigations and, therefore, temporarily stop to oversee U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Despite this information, some experts still believe that the shutdown will not affect talks with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani.

“I don’t see companies rushing to take advantage to sell bad staff to Iran or being involved in transactions with Iran that would be suspicious under regular circumstances,” said Middle East expert and Syria Direct reporter Jacob Wirtschafter.

Wirtschafter also pointed out that Middle Eastern countries and Syrian refugees in them could be seriously hurt by a lack of promised funds.

More than 2 million refugees are predominantly concentrated in three Middle Eastern countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  There are approximately 777,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 534,000 in Lebanon and 495,000 in Turkey, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Iraq and Egypt also take in a large number of refugees, and the numbers continue to rise daily.  

Government programs that aid Syrian refugees will lack sufficient funding, and experience trouble in supplying refugees with food and other necessities. 

“Jordan desperately needs U.S. to meet commitments to take care of the Syrian refugee problem,” said Wirtschafter, who lives and works in Amman, Jordan.  “If the shutdown goes on too long, Syrians spread in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan will go hungry. And if US goes a month without paying Jordan its scheduled remittances, it would create a deficit that the Jordanians simply can’t cover.”

Reach Staff Reporter Lior Haykeen here.



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