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Sanctions: TOEFL test is halted in Iran

18 Jul 2010

By YEGANEH JUNE TORBATI

The Educational Testing Service has announced that it is temporarily suspending registration for its tests in Iran, including the popular Test of English as a Foreign Language, in what may be one of the first tangible effects of the new sanctions levied against the country by the international community. Experts and Iranian expatriates were appalled, saying that if the sanctions prohibited Iranians from studying abroad, they would hurt precisely the kind of outward-looking young Iranians the West would like to help.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, is a widely recognized measure of English proficiency and is often used by Western universities in evaluating international students for admission. The statement posted on the E.T.S. Web site on Wednesday cited the United Nations Security Council resolution “affecting banks and financial institutions that conduct business in Iran.

“As a result of this resolution, E.T.S. is currently unable to process payments from Iran,” the statement said. In an interview with the Iranian Mehr news agency, Ibrahim Khodai, an official at the organization that manages student testing in Iran, said the organization had run into problems paying registration fees to the company, and that currently students could not take the test. However, he said that the test’s cancellation was unrelated to the latest sanctions against Iran, and he instead cited “problems we’ve had in paying registration fees to the E.T.S., an American organization.”

The United Nations Security Council approved a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in June. The resolution, which aims to press Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program, mainly affects military purchases and financial transactions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which has been linked to the country’s nuclear program. President Obama signed into law additional unilateral sanctions, including restrictions on foreign banks that do business with the Revolutionary Guards or other blacklisted Iranian institutions.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said E.T.S. was exactly the kind of organization that should be exempt from the sanctions. “Prohibiting Toefl from operating in Iran is counterproductive to the spirit of smart sanctions,” he said, noting that the exam is often a path to the outside world for young Iranians. “The government is not being hurt by Toefl not operating in Iran,” he said. “It’s the people, and precisely the people we’re hoping to empower.”

A State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said the government was “exploring whether there are alternative mechanisms” to allow E.T.S. to continue its work in Iran. “Our intent remains to apply pressure on the Iranian government without placing an undue burden on the Iranian people,” he said.

source: The New York Times

 
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