No More Business With Iran, Says Siemens

Spiegel Online:  Europe’s largest engineering conglomerate has announced an end to business with Iran. High-tech exports from European firms have worried Western governments in light of Tehran’s apparent ambition to build a nuclear bomb. Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel sees a way forward for tighter UN sanctions.

The head of Siemens said Tuesday his company had quit taking orders from Iran. The announcement came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel predicted movement toward tougher sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program.

Siemens CEO Peter Löscher told shareholders on Tuesday that the Siemens board had decided in October 2009 to wind down business with the Islamic Republic. A number of bids were still open from before October, he said, but if they fall through Siemens will end its dealings with Iran by mid-2010.

Western countries believe Iran is building a nuclear weapons program, but Tehran says it needs enriched uranium exclusively for civilian use in nuclear power plants. The United States imposed a deadline at the end of 2009 for Iran to respond to a package of incentives to quit enriching uranium. Iran let the deadline pass, and Chancellor Merkel said Tuesday that the United Nations Security Council will now take up the question of tighter sanctions.

“The issue of sanctions on Iran will be on the agenda when France has the (Security Council) chair,” she told a joint press conference with visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres. Peres was in Berlin to observe Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on Wednesday.

Sanction talks would likely occur in February, Merkel said. France takes over the Security Council chair this month from China, which still opposes sanctions.

‘A Long Tradition of Cooperation’

In spite of three rounds of milder sanctions imposed by the UN, Berlin has struggled to suppress high-tech exports to Iran. Siemens — Europe’s largest engineering firm — sells about €500 million ($703.6 million) worth of goods to Iranian companies every year, according to Reuters. In 2009 that number amounted to 0.7 percent of its overall sales.

“There is a long tradition of economic cooperation (between Germany and Iran),” Merkel said at the press conference Tuesday. “There has been a significant reduction. But we believe it is only effective if you try to introduce international sanctions on as broad a base as possible. Germany will adhere to sanctions in all sectors that are affected.”

German customs officers in December found €16 million worth of turbocompressors bound for Iran from a Siemens branch in Sweden. The compressors — part of a larger €80 million shipment — could be have been used in Iran’s missile program, investigators said. A Siemens spokesman said there was nothing underhanded about the company’s behavior, but he never addressed the shipment itself.

“Our business activities in Iran are exclusively for civil purposes and are in accordance with applicable international laws and regulations,” he told SPIEGEL at the time.

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