Sunday

5th Jul 2020

US names EU companies suspected of foul play on Iran

  • Tehran's Azadi monument. The cables shed light on why the US wants the EU to keep its arms embargo on China (Photo: Recovering Sick Soul)

A fresh cache of 48 leaked US cables has named several leading EU companies as being witting or unwitting accomplices to Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

The WikiLeaks cables, published by Norway's Aftenposten daily at the weekend, put the spotlight on: Belgian firm George Forrest International; Czech company Kosovit; Denmark's Den Danske Bank; Germany's Brabender, Deutsche Bank, Mahr, Oerlikon and Siemens; Greek port handlers; Sulzer Eldim in the Netherlands; Spain's Maquinaria; Sweden's Nordea Bank, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and Svenska Handelsbanken.

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They also named a number of foreign subsidiary banks and UK banks in London - the UK Bank of China International, British Arab Commercial Bank, Havin Bank, HSBC Bank, Lloyds TSB Bank, Melli Bank, Moscow Narodny Bank and National Bank of Egypt International.

The cables cast Germany's Siemens and Belgium's George Forrest International (GFI) in a particularly negative light.

A dispatch from July 2009 notes: "The Dutch are particularly concerned German company Siemens will continue to export the [nuclear-relevant rotor] blades to Iran." A cable from August the same year says that George Forrest International (GFI) could be acting as an Iranian middleman in talks with a Canadian uranium firm, citing "GFI's ongoing discussions with senior Iranian officials possibly related to Iran's efforts to acquire uranium ore."

The cables show the extent of Iran's international campaign to get nuclear and ballistic missile-related material in an operation stretching from uranium mines in Kazakhstan and Namibia to potential suppliers in Brazil, China and Ecuador.

The dispatches say Iranian shipping firm IRISL sometimes skips designated ports of call in Europe to avoid searches of containers in dirty tricks costing it hundreds of thousands of dollars. Iranian firms allegedly also adopt new names, falsify shipping documents and "take advantage of government connections" in China to evade UN-mandated controls.

The US' counter-Iran effort involves close co-operation with its EU allies. In several examples France, Germany, the Netherlands and in particular the UK co-ordinated "demarches" - formal diplomatic communiques - to put pressure on third countries such as China or Namibia to fall into line.

An attempt in 2009 by the US and UK to get Germany to put the squeeze on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to intercept a suspect shipment of computer equipment to Iran highlights the sensitivity of the work.

A cable dated 3 April 2009 by the US charge d'affairs in Berlin, John M. Koenig, notes that: "the BND [the German secret service] was given 'detailed information' by British intelligence sources about an imminent shipment of Siemens computers from China to Iran [via the UAE]."

A British diplomat in Berlin, Alexandra McKenzie, told Mr Koenig that: "getting the UAE to take action will be much more effective if the request comes from the Germans ... she hinted that the Germans simply have more credibility with the UAE on these matters and if the request were to come directly from the UK, it may appear politically-motivated to the Emiratis."

Berlin felt "uncomfortable" about its "messenger role" in the plan, which was to see German inspectors rifle through the shipment in the UAE while US and UK personnel stood by in a "supervisory capacity."

German official Markus Klinger noted that Berlin "does not have any knowledge of the precise identity of the goods and that they are really basing their actions on trust in the UK information." The US' Mr Koenig commented that: "Germany's nightmare scenario would be that nothing of concern is found after the inspections are completed and that they are left in the shadow of blame."

China embargo

The cables shed light on why the US wants the EU to maintain its 1989 arms embargo on China, despite a recent proposal by EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to lift the ban for the sake of better relations.

China's export control regime is on a number of occasions described as having "weaknesses" due to: "reliance on foreign-provided information ... failure to know their customers ... insufficient efforts to penalise firms ... [and] lack of political will," in a situation which makes Tehran think it can reject UN demands with "impunity."

One Chinese diplomat told his US counterpart that "China's business is its business." A cable from Paris in October 2008 painted a cynical picture of Chinese diplomacy. "China's calculation [is] that such sales [of nuclear-related chemicals to Iran] had the potential to tarnish China's image in the run-up to the August 2008 Olympics in Beijing," it says. "It remains to be seen whether Chinese authorities' resolve to curtail such transfers will weaken following the conclusion of the Olympics."

The so-called P5+1 powers - the UK, China, France, Russia, the US and Germany - will meet Iranian officials in Istanbul on 21 January. Turkish firms are also named as Iranian intermediaries in the global nuclear game.

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