Does Siemens’ move send a message on Iran sanctions?
When it comes to further sanctions on Iran, the clock is ticking relentlessly, even if those leading the drive — the United States, Britain, Germany and France — are giving little away in terms of timing or what might be targeted under any new, U.N.-agreed package.
Still, companies that do business with Iran appear to be getting the message that time is running out.
On Tuesday, German engineering group Siemens announced it would reject any further orders from Tehran, although it will meet exisiting ones. Siemens, which with French scientists began building Iran’s first civilian nuclear reactors at Bushehr in 1974, had sales of around 500 million euros in Iran last year, so its decision, while a tiny proportion of its global revenues, is not immaterial.
Siemens made its announcement less than 10 days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear she would back further, tough sanctions on Tehran, and two weeks after Swiss oil trading giant Glencore halted fuel sales to Iran as momentum towards tighter restrictions, made a priority by U.S. President Barack Obama early this year, gathered pace.
European Union foreign ministers met on Monday to discuss the issue, saying afterwards that an offer for Iran to export low-enriched uranium and have it converted into fuel abroad remained on the table, but that in the meantime Iran remained in violation of U.N. resolutions and that “time was running out”. Talks are to begin soon in New York on drawing up the specifics of any sanctions package.
So what exactly could the P5+1 (the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — plus Germany) do to try to bring its influence to bear on Tehran?
EU diplomats have hinted that any new package could include further restrictions on Iranian trade-finance banks, such as Bank Melli, possible moves against the central bank, the targeting of “companies and individuals” suspected of involvement in proliferation, and a ban on the export to Iran of technical equipment used in its oil export industry. Iran’s imports of petrol would not be targeted.
That may go some way towards checking Iran’s perceived recalcitrance, but even in the United States there is opposition among companies and businesses to further sanctions, not to mention reluctance on the part of Russia and China.
And from the point of view of senior officials in Israel, the country in the region most immediately threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it is already time to start thinking about military action.