By Tony Barber in Brussels
The US on Friday warned China, Russia and other countries opposed to tougher economic sanctions against Iran not to seize business opportunities left open by the departure of those respecting the sanctions regime.
Robert Kimmitt, US deputy treasury secretary, said he understood the concerns of private-sector companies that commercial rivals might snap up their business in Iran.
European Union foreign ministers meet on Monday to discuss proposals to impose unilateral EU sanctions on Iran without waiting for the United Nations Security Council to adopt new measures of its own.
But diplomats say EU member states are divided on the issue, in spite of their common concern about Iranian activities that Tehran denies are aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons.
Austria, Germany and Italy are among EU countries that oppose a French proposal for EU sanctions without a new UN mandate.
They contend that departing European companies, which collectively conduct billions of euros in business with Iran, would simply leave the field open for Russian, Chinese and other Asian competitors.
“We hear from the business community that it’s a concern of theirs – to act responsibly, only to see someone else act irresponsibly,” Mr Kimmitt said in Brussels after talks with four EU commissioners. “The Russians and Chinese have been signatories to each of the UN Security Council resolutions and I would think, whether it be in the financial sector or other sectors, someone else stepping in would be very inappropriate and very counter to what the Security Council has called on the world community to do.
“It’s important for sanctions to have a multilateral base.”
The Security Council has unanimously adopted two measures on Iran. Resolution 1737, passed last December, banned the supply of nuclear-related technology and materials and froze the assets of people and companies linked to Iran’s uranium enrichment activities.
Resolution 1747, adopted last March, tightened the sanctions by banning arms sales and stepping up the existing freeze on assets.
The US and its European allies have agreed to delay any attempt to extend UN sanctions until next month in order to assess the outcome of Iran’s latest discussions with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.
Mr Kimmitt said foreign companies doing business with Iran faced unusual problems “because it’s very difficult to know whether the person you’re dealing with is, in fact, doing what he says, or could be connected, covertly or otherwise, with the [nuclear] proliferation programme”.
He said he was pleased with efforts in France, Germany, Italy and the UK to reduce export credits to Iran. Export credits, he said, “should not be used to subsidise the risks that Iran has brought on itself”.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007