Commentary Magazine


Topic: communications technology

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.

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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Iran Sanctions Pass the Senate

The president in his SOTU virtually ignored the greatest national security threat of our time: the growing danger that an Islamic revolutionary regime will acquire nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the Senate didn’t wait around for the Obami to act. This report explains:

The US Senate voted Thursday to slap tough new sanctions on Iran, targeting its thirst for gasoline imports in a bid to force Tehran to bow to global pressure to freeze its suspect nuclear program.

“The Iranian regime has engaged in serious human rights abuses against its own citizens, funded terrorist activity throughout the Middle East, and pursued illicit nuclear activities posing a serious threat to the security of the United States and our allies,” said Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

“With passage of this bill, we make it clear that there will be appropriate consequences if these actions continue,” said Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a key sponsor of the legislation.

The bill will need to be reconciled with the House version. The Senate’s bill contains robust measures, the sort candidate Obama seemed to favor on the campaign trail:

It also requires that the president report to congress when non-US companies become eligible for sanctions, under a 1996 law that punishes investments of more than 20 million dollars in Iran’s energy sector.

Iran gets most of its gasoline imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.

The measure also expands the 1996 law to cover oil and gas pipelines and tankers, and requires the administration to freeze the assets of any Iranians, including members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, found to be active in weapons proliferation or terrorism.

It would also enable US investors, including states’ pension funds, to divest from energy firms that do business with Iran.

It would prohibit the US 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.

It seems that the Senate is growing impatient with China and Russia, which show no sign of joining in multilateral measures, and also with the Obami, who have made an art of foot-dragging. As Sen. Mitch McConnell pointed out, “The Iranian regime has shown no interest in limiting its nuclear ambitions. And an entire year was lost as Iran moved closer and closer to its goal.”

Let’s see what Obama does when the bill lands on his desk. He has been unable to hold the Congress at bay, no doubt to the disappointment of the pin-prick sanctions set at Foggy Bottom, which searches for those measures that pack the least punch. Obama may be yanked against his will from his engagement cocoon. But make no mistake: there is no consensus in the U.S. Congress for perpetuating the Obami’s current do-nothingism. There’s also only so much engagement fabulism that even liberal Democratic lawmakers can take. Good for them. Let’s see if it shakes them awake at the White House.

The president in his SOTU virtually ignored the greatest national security threat of our time: the growing danger that an Islamic revolutionary regime will acquire nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the Senate didn’t wait around for the Obami to act. This report explains:

The US Senate voted Thursday to slap tough new sanctions on Iran, targeting its thirst for gasoline imports in a bid to force Tehran to bow to global pressure to freeze its suspect nuclear program.

“The Iranian regime has engaged in serious human rights abuses against its own citizens, funded terrorist activity throughout the Middle East, and pursued illicit nuclear activities posing a serious threat to the security of the United States and our allies,” said Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

“With passage of this bill, we make it clear that there will be appropriate consequences if these actions continue,” said Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a key sponsor of the legislation.

The bill will need to be reconciled with the House version. The Senate’s bill contains robust measures, the sort candidate Obama seemed to favor on the campaign trail:

It also requires that the president report to congress when non-US companies become eligible for sanctions, under a 1996 law that punishes investments of more than 20 million dollars in Iran’s energy sector.

Iran gets most of its gasoline imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.

The measure also expands the 1996 law to cover oil and gas pipelines and tankers, and requires the administration to freeze the assets of any Iranians, including members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, found to be active in weapons proliferation or terrorism.

It would also enable US investors, including states’ pension funds, to divest from energy firms that do business with Iran.

It would prohibit the US 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.

It seems that the Senate is growing impatient with China and Russia, which show no sign of joining in multilateral measures, and also with the Obami, who have made an art of foot-dragging. As Sen. Mitch McConnell pointed out, “The Iranian regime has shown no interest in limiting its nuclear ambitions. And an entire year was lost as Iran moved closer and closer to its goal.”

Let’s see what Obama does when the bill lands on his desk. He has been unable to hold the Congress at bay, no doubt to the disappointment of the pin-prick sanctions set at Foggy Bottom, which searches for those measures that pack the least punch. Obama may be yanked against his will from his engagement cocoon. But make no mistake: there is no consensus in the U.S. Congress for perpetuating the Obami’s current do-nothingism. There’s also only so much engagement fabulism that even liberal Democratic lawmakers can take. Good for them. Let’s see if it shakes them awake at the White House.

Read Less




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