What’s the deal with Iran?

Even after a week of protests disputing incumbent President Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory in the Iranian election, the EU still keeps a low diplomatic profile. Several newspapers across the continent are suggesting that this might have something to do with European economic interests in the Islamic republic.

Published on 18 June 2009 at 15:15
Demonstration in favour of Iran's main opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Moussavi, in Frankfurt, Germany, June 16, 2009 (AFP)

In Europe, the events in Iran have prompted a variety of reactions, which range from “hope for a historic political shake-up” and “a concern to preserve (…) diplomatic initiatives of recent months that have opened up new possibilities for entente with Teheran,” reports[Le Monde](http://www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient/article/2009/06/17/iran-la-russie-et-la-chine-soutiennent-mahmoud-ahmadinejad_1207800_3218.html). To a large degree, official responses in Europe have remained cautious in tone, with the exception of a declaration made by Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced that “the elections were a disaster” — a statement that the French daily interprets as wish to “cut any links with Mr. Ahmadinejad.”

In Rome, where the tone was more prudent, the Italian government limited criticism to what it deemed to be “unacceptable violence” in Iran, without referring to any suspicion of electoral fraud. However, the United Kingdom proved to be even more circumspect. In emphasizing that “the elections are a matter for the Iranian people,” Gordon Brown appears to be encouraging his western partners to exercise a certain restraint. For Le Monde, this is an important “difference in as much as the United Kingdom, along with France, has taken a hard line on the Iranian nuclear issue.”

In Vienna, Kurier called on the “the European Union to be clearer, more forceful and more credible in its condemnation of the situation in Teheran,” and noted that the “Ahmadinejad’s young adversaries are counting on moral support from abroad.”

On the contrary, the Romanian daily [Ziua](http://www.ziua.ro/news.php?data=2009-06-16&id=30734) remarked that the European Union’s reaction was “more trenchant” than its timid response to similar events in the Republic of Moldova, which occurred in the wake of general elections last April. It went on to argue that responses should be the same in both cases; in view of the fact that both countries are controlled by “dictatorial” regimes, and demonstrations contesting the election had resulted in casualties in Chisnau as well as in Teheran. The report concludes with the suggestion that the difference in attitudes was doubtless due to Iran’s status as “a major economic partner with oil and gas resources, while Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in the world.”

The question of economic interests in Iran was also taken up by Der Tagesspiegel, which noted that Germany is Iran’s second largest trading partner after China. According to a German businessman interviewed by the Berlin daily, this was the main motive for Germany’s reluctance to openly criticize the regime in Teheran. He further adds that Germany “would suffer in the event of sanctions,” which “should be organized by the United Nations.” This view was not shared by the German edition of the Financial Times, which called on German companies to assume their responsibilities and cut links with the Iranian economy. It further added that “75% of Iranian companies depend on German equipment,” which also plays “a key role in Iran’s nuclear program.”

Another financial daily Handelsblatt reported on the possible consequences for European energy companies, and noted that the stakes were high for the world’s largest energy project which is located in Iran’s South Pars oilfield in the Persian Gulf — an investment valued at 4.7 billion dollars. France’s Total, Spain’s Repsol and the Dutch-British Shell all have interests there. In the face of the threat of American sanctions, Europe’s energy companies including Germany’s RWE and Eon have distanced themselves from projects in Iran. “But Teheran has placed them under increasing pressure, and Iran’s Oil Minister is threatening distribute public contracts to more compliant competitors from Russia and China.”

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