The CPD Blog is intended to stimulate dialog among scholars and practitioners from around the world in the public diplomacy sphere. The opinions represented here are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect CPD's views. For blogger guidelines, click here.

U.S. Reverses Sanctions Policy To Open Access To Culture, Education

Jun 11, 2010


WASHINGTON -- A recent “pivot” of U.S. sanctions policy toward Iran, Sudan and Cuba was discussed in detail this morning by a senior State Department official.

Alec Ross, Secretary Clinton's Senior Advisor for Innovation, said the new policy is designed to promote access to global education and culture by permitting certain telecommunications equipment and services to flow to those countries. Export of those equipment and services had previously been blocked by U.S. sanctions.

"In authoritarian environments it is important to get access to technology," said Ross, adding the U.S. will promote the distribution of free downloadable software to open access to the uncensored global Internet and thus reduce those countries' political, educational and cultural isolation.

In addition to promoting open access to information, Ross said the U.S. has initiated a campaign to actively support "grassroots organizations" around the world.

Ross singled out bloggers as worthy of support, describing blogs as "the samisdat of the 21st century." And he said the fastest growing primary medium for access is not broadcasting but the mobile telephone, especially in developing countries. When Secretary Clinton took office, he said, there were four billion cell phones in the world, and now, just over a year later, the number is almost five billion.

One handicap faced by the Obama administration, according to Ross, is the lack of "global, timely" information on Internet censorship around the world. A few countries get all of the media attention, he said, but Internet censorship is a problem in "dozens of countries" around the world.

Speaking at a Media Access Project conference , Ross said what is at stake is not just the Internet but civilization itself.

He compared 2010 to the year 215 A.D., when the flourishing scientific and cultural center of the world was located in Alexandria, Egypt. In that year, Roman emperor Caracalla took offense at the robust political satire there and ordered the massacre of all 20,000 of the city's “combat age” men and boys. That led to the decline and eventual destruction of the world’s greatest library and research center, which had been the birthplace of science and technology since the third century B.C. And Islam's golden age ended similarly, when Damascus and Baghdad abruptly ended open access to information.

By contrast, he said, Europe's rise dated to opening access to information and culture through he invention of the Internet of the era - the printing press - which ended the dark ages and enabled the advances of the Enlightenment.


Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

What kind of culture does the

What kind of culture does the United States have to offer - torture, war, racism, fascism? As for censorship, perhaps the United States should first resurrect the First Amendment so that those critical of Israel's butchery can speak out without retaliation. The US is the country in trouble, not others.

I wouldn't call this removal

I wouldn't call this removal of sanctions as an attempt to spread cultural and scientific exchange between between Iran and the U.S. This seems more a tool of distributing U.S. propaganda via the internet.

There definitely is alot that the U.S. can learn from Iran's 7,000 year history. This would have been a far better exchange of knowledge and understanding of a country and its civilization.

Soraya Spehahpour has already

Soraya Spehahpour has already said it best. Do we all remember Helen Thomas? Is this the kind of freedom America wants to pass on to other cultures? If it is, then I suggest America should keep that kind of freedom of speech at home since there will not be any takers anywhere.

The idea is to provide

The idea is to provide uncensored access to information of all kinds. Seems odd to have comments on a blog (of all media) that appear to promote censorship and authoritarian regimes....

I was in Cuba over the

I was in Cuba over the Christmas holidays. The sanctions don't work. Cuba is much more likely to move in a democratic direction if they encounter more Americans. What's more, Cuba is a terrific potential partner. They have an educated and dedicated workforce. It will likely take the passing of Fidel for things to change but there are tremendous opportunities in Cuba.


Visit CPD's Online Library

Explore CPD's vast online database featuring the latest books, articles, speeches and information on international organizations dedicated to public diplomacy. 

Join the Conversation

Interested in contributing to the CPD Blog? We welcome your posts. Read our guidelines and find out how you can submit blogs and photo essays >