The United States Has Tacitly Given European Union (EU) Oil Firms the Go-Ahead to Invest in Iran, Following the Announcement Last Week That the EU Had Agreed to Start Talks on a Free-Trade Pact with the Islamic Republic

Article excerpt

The United States has tacitly given European Union (EU) oil firms the go-ahead to invest in Iran, following the announcement last week that the EU had agreed to start talks on a free-trade pact with the Islamic republic.

Alan Larson, under-secretary for economic affairs at the state department, has told the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee that the Bush administration would continue its policy of turning a blind eye to European investments in Iran.

The EU agreed last week in principle to open talks with the Iranian government on a new Trade and Co-Operation Act, opening the way for greater investment by EU companies. Despite their reservations about the scheme, US officials have pointedly failed to condemn it publicly.

US companies remain banned from trading with Iran, so EU-based firms are set to steal a march on their rivals.

The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, passed in 1996 by the former US president, Bill Clinton, includes provisions for sanctions against any non-US company that provides new investments worth over $40m to develop petroleum resources in Iran. The act has never been enforced.

Most recently, President Bush said Iran was part of an axis of evil behind global terrorism.

The state department has asked that EU negotiators make specific demands on Iran as a condition of signing a deal.

Areas of concern to the US include the regimes support for international terrorist organisations, notably Hamas, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and its persecution of religious minorities, notably Christians, Jews and Bahais.

The response from the US, which was more conciliatory than had been expected, comes at a time when trade relations between the EU and the US have thawed slightly.

Pascal Lamy, the EUs trade commissioner, said last Friday that Brussels may postpone its planned retaliation against steel tariffs imposed by the US, though the two blocs remain at loggerheads on a range of trade issues. Energy analysts estimate that about $10bn worth of Iranian investment deals have been agreed since 1995 with non-US companies. EU imports from Iran last year were worth about E8bn (pound sterling5bn), while exports reached E5.2bn.

European energy giants including Royal Dutch/Shell, TotalFinaElf, ENI and banks such as Societe Generale and Credit Agricole Indosuez have been among the most active foreign players in Iran. …