May 13th, 2007 06:04 EST
International Businesses Increasingly Shun Iran
Washington -- Targeted economic sanctions against Iran for pursuing nuclear and missile programs are showing results as the international community begins to grasp the risks of dealing with Iranian companies, according to a U.S. Treasury official.
Speaking May 10 to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmitt said government export credits to Iran from countries like Germany, France and Japan recently decreased sharply. The decline indicates a growing awareness of the risk of doing business with Iran, he said.
As a result, Kimmitt said, “we believe that segments of Iranian society beyond President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- including the mullahs, their merchant class backers, and liberalizing forces -- understand the high cost of the country’s increasing isolation and the need to change its behavior.”
Kimmitt credited the shift in perception to the U.S. policy of building consensus for economic sanctions against Iran. As a result, partners who at first resisted the idea of sanctions on Iran have reversed their position and now “support pressuring the Iranian regime to renounce its support for WMD proliferation,” he said.
U.S. multinational efforts to apply economic pressure on specific people and institutions associated with Iranian nuclear and missile programs involve talking to international financial organizations, foreign finance ministries and central banks, but also the international private sector, including over 40 banks around the world, Kimmitt said.
Among others, the Swiss bank UBS cut off all dealings with Iran, and Credit Suisse and HSBC have limited their exposure in Iran significantly. The banks justified their decisions by business considerations, Kimmitt said.
“Financial institutions want to identify and avoid dangerous or risky customers who could harm their reputations and business,” he said.
The deputy secretary added that a number of multinational corporations also have curtailed investing in Iran, including limiting investment in Iran’s oil fields.
Kimmitt said some members of Congress are urging broader sanctions including mandatory divestment, sanctions on foreign subsidiaries of American companies and “shame lists” of foreign and domestic firms that do business with Iran.
In Kimmitt’s view, however, those proposals might prove counterproductive by undermining international cooperation on Iran. Some allies are likely to see them as inappropriate extensions of U.S. law beyond U.S. borders, he added.
“Our shared goal is to pressure the Iranian regime to change its behavior, and the best way to achieve this objective is to keep the focus on illicit conduct and maintain as broad an international coalition as possible,” Kimmitt said.
Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, speaking in Berlin May 9, urged European countries and Japan to further reduce trade ties with Iran. Burns predicted that continued defiance from Iran would result in a new sanctions resolution from the U.N. Security Council. (See related article.)