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Annals of Disengagement

On Tuesday, Siemens, the German conglomerate, announced in its annual shareholders meeting that it has reduced its commercial ties with Iran. The next day, a company spokesman made that statement a bit more explicit: the company, he said, has “decided not to conclude new contracts with commercial partners in Iran.”

That leaves a lot of wiggle room – Siemens is free to conclude new contracts with government entities in Iran, free to carry on with its existing contracts, and free to conclude new ones until its self-imposed deadline of mid-2010 rolls around. And it does nothing to meet criticism from German human-rights advocates that Siemens sells to states like China, knowing that China will then resell to Iran. But it is, at least, a tiny sign that Siemens is feeling the heat. About time too, given Europe’s commercial complicity with the Iranian regime.

Completely coincidentally, two days later, the Senate, as Jen mentioned, passed tough sanctions on Iran. Among other steps, as the AP notes, the Senate bill “would prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.” As I say, it’s certainly just a coincidence that, two days before the vote, Siemens intimated it was heading for the Iranian exit, anyhow.

But it does make you think. Engagement has been a complete failure, as even Richard Haass now admits. It hasn’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program, reduced the brutality of the regime, or done anything to diminish Europe’s vast trade ties with Iran, which have shrunk in 2009 mostly because of the recession. And yet, as soon as the U.S. Senate looks like it might pass a bill – which still needs to be reconciled with the House version, and for which the President has shown no enthusiasm at all – a major German firm suddenly, mysteriously develops a case of the shakes about cozying up to Tehran. I wonder what they’d do if we really started trying.



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