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Tehran’s Big Deal

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”


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