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Sunday, January 03, 2010

To punish Iran, stop the Europeans from trading with it

There was an important article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal by Goli Ameri, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, U.S. representative to the 60th U.N. General Assembly and the U.S. public delegate to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, in which Ms. Ameri argues that all of the talk of sanctions is nonsense, and what really needs to happen is to hurt the Iranian Republican Guards by stopping European trade with them.
According to Mohsen Sazegara, one of the co-founders of the IRGC and current researcher and democracy activist residing in the U.S., the IRGC controls the fundamentals of Iran's economy, with over 800 companies involved in shipping and ship-building, banking, energy, chemicals, heavy construction and machinery, electricity, transport equipment, and import of tear gas for oppressing mass demonstrations. The IRCG's most recent foray into Iran's business activities was the purchase of a 51% share in the Iranian Telecommunications Company for $8 billion, effectively gaining control of all Iranian communications with the outside world.

Who is Iran's main business partner? In 2008 the EU was—in its own words—the "first trade partner of Iran," with imports and exports totalling €25.4 billion ($36.4 billion) followed by China, Japan, and South Korea. The €14.1 billion in European exports to Iran last year, up 1.5% from 2007, included mainly machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, chemicals and even dual-use telecommunications equipment responsible for tracking and imprisoning protesters. Of the €11.3 billion in European imports from Iran, 90% is energy-related. Germany, France and Italy top the list, the former two also members of the team involved in nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Yet despite the IRGC's deep involvement in the Iranian economy, the Associated Press reported shortly after the June elections that Daniel Bernbeck, head of the German-Iranian Industry Group, said that "doing business in Iran is a far cry from doing business with the government itself....I see no moral question here at all. We are not doing business with Iran, but with Iranian companies. We are not supporting the government."

In the past two decades Europe's refrain has been that trade keeps the doors of communications open and allows them to openly discuss the nuclear issue and human rights violations. In a 2007 interview with Deutsche Welle magazine, Mechtild Rothe, vice president of the European Parliament, said that "relations with Iran have not reached a point where economic interests should need to suffer. I think it would be much better to negotiate—to speak with each other."

The people of Iran have now spoken loud and clear about their democratic aspirations. The EU, however, continues to pursue its economic interests, save for a range of toothless feel-good statements. As recently as October, the National Iranian Oil Company announced that "negotiations [on the South Pars Gas field] with Shell and Repsol [Spanish firm] in recent weeks have gone in the desired direction and efforts are being made to take action as quickly as possible given the mutual interests in this field." France's Total has also resumed discussions with the Iranian government on another phase of the South Pars Gas field. The AP also reported that, when asked if France would recommend that French businesses scale back trade with Iran, foreign ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux "wouldn't say yes or no".

Since the post-election crackdown discredited Europe's so-called "open doors of communications" strategy, Europeans are now hiding behind the slogan that scaling back business with the IRGC hurts average Iranians. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told the New York Times after the elections that "sanctions weigh in particular on the middle levels of society, but especially on the disadvantaged ones."

In 1968, Archbishop Desmond Tutu responded poignantly to similar criticism on sanctioning South Africa and its impact on the poor: "Moral Humbug," he said. "There is no room for neutrality. Are you on the side of oppression or liberation? Are you on the side of death or life? Are you on the side of good or evil?"
Read the whole thing.

I'll bet if you took a survey, most Americans (and Israelis) would be unaware that European trade with Iran continues as if nothing has happened over the last year. In fact, I wonder if President Obama or the Congress is even aware of it. It's time for a concerted campaign to shut down European trade with Iran.

By the way, Ms. Ameri says that the Americans have been better about passing laws but have never actually sanctioned any company for doing business with Iran. Hmmm.


At 3:15 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Sanctions won't work with Iran because material considerations don't affect an ideological regime. There is only one real option for dealing with Iran. Let's hope it happens soon.


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