Scotland on Sunday: There are 43 names. The great and the good of Iran’s industrial and scientific community, the obscure, the famous and, perhaps, the infamous. Scotland on Sunday
BRIAN BRADY – WESTMINSTER EDITOR
THERE are 43 names. The great and the good of Iran’s industrial and scientific community, the obscure, the famous and, perhaps, the infamous.
Their titles were quietly released into the public domain for the first time only days ago by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in a swift operation claiming to be merely giving British firms updated guidance on the trading situation with Tehran.
It was, in fact, far more important than that. The British government is effectively blacklisting dozens of Iranian entities, including state bodies like Tehran University. In a climate of rising concerns about the intentions of Iranian leaders and their advancing nuclear programme – criticised by foreign secretary Jack Straw last month, who warned Tehran of possible sanctions if it failed to heed UN Security Council demands to halt its production of enriched uranium – this was a clear demonstration of how deeply those fears are felt.
Across Europe and much of the western world the fears about Tehran’s intentions are growing. Two weeks ago, customs investigators marched into the business premises of the German-Armenian partnership NTV, in the infamous “millionaires’ neighbourhood” of Bad Homburg, and began seizing documents about its dealings with Iran.
The swoop was not an isolated case: 40 more German companies of varying sizes and interests were caught up in the nationwide operation, carried out by 250 police and customs officials. They were all suspected of involvement in a German-Russian network that may have helped the Iranians advance a nuclear programme that the West now fears only military action can dismantle.
NTV, a nondescript telecommunications firm owned by a colourful business partnership obsessed with racehorse breeding and gambling, had reportedly arranged for a cable drum to be dispatched to an Iranian weapons importer.
The firm, and its owners, attracted the attention of the a public prosecutor. In turn he realised there was a connection to the activities of the defunct Berlin firm Vero Handels GmbH, which is now suspected of having scoured Germany for special parts for construction of the Iranian Bushehr nuclear reactor.
As their colleagues throughout Germany were stomping into 41 companies last month, officials at the Department of Trade and Industry in London were attempting to tighten the net around their own business community.
Britain has had an arms embargo against Iran in place for 13 years. The policy, amended by Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary in 1998, purports to prevent all items on the “military list” or “nuclear list” leaving these shores bound for Tehran.
The sanctions do not, however, prohibit all business between the two countries. In the final three months of last year, for example, British firms got DTI approval for £3m-worth of exports, covering a list of items including biotechnology equipment, civil aircraft and gas detection equipment.
And here is the problem: a number of items are acknowledged to be “dual-use” – able to be applied for both fair and foul means – but licences are often granted as long as exporters can convince the authorities that they will be used for industrial or research purposes. The “end-use” monitoring system, which effectively places firms on trust, has long been the target of condemnation by campaigners against arms trading.
The DTI’s switch in policy towards Iran last month attempted to tackle this issue at source. Via an understated announcement on its website, the DTI offshoot the Export Control Organisation (ECO) revealed it was extending its guidance to would-be exporters, “given the current concerns about Iran in particular”. Along with the amendments, the bureaucrats added “a list of Iranian entities” intended to help exporters “judge which exports might potentially be of concern on end use grounds”.
The sense of foreboding is overpowering. Despite the ECO’s determined attempts to underplay the move, a cursory glance at the list of Iranian “entities” now effectively blacklisted by the British government reveals the gravity of the situation.
Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, Esfahan Chemical Industries, Government of Iran, Department of Defence, Iranian Mineral Processing Research Centre, Nuclear Research Centre for Agriculture And Medicine, and Tehran University. Most worryingly, given the DTI’s recently discovered concerns about these organisations, 12 of the 43 have already taken delivery of goods from Britain in the past.
“The purpose of a list there is to alert UK exporters to end-users that we are concerned about in Iran,” trade minister Malcolm Wicks said when asked about controls over exports to Iran. “That is an example of how, when there is a concern, we disseminate that concern to appropriate companies.”
Such concern does not, yet, translate itself into harsh demands for compliance from British business – nor suggest that the government itself will be making an enormous effort to tighten the net. “This information may be factored into your business planning and help you to make informed decisions on whether to contact the ECO,” the organisation’s guidance adds. “The list may be amended from time to time and should be checked regularly if you are planning business with Iran.”
The approach contrasts sharply with that of the Americans, who maintain a comprehensive embargo on business with Iran, and come down heavily upon anyone suspected of helping a key element of the “axis of evil” augment their offensive powers.
IT WAS reported last night that US President George Bush is making plans for a large scale bombing strike on Iran, targeting sites where uranium is thought to be enriched.
The use of force is being considered in case diplomatic efforts to persuade Tehran to stop its nuclear programme fail.