Iran: A Tehran awash with US goods exposes hypocrisy of Bush Jnr trade sanctions
London ~~ Wednesday, 9 July 2008, Page 16
Iran trade: White House's hostile rhetoric fails to stem flow of exports to regime under sanctions
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
- · Tenfold increase reported during Bush years
- · Europe under pressure to rein in ties with Tehran
American goods popular in Iranian markets include cigarettes, musical instruments, bras and perfume. Photograph: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters/Corbis
US exports to Iran have risen dramatically during George Bush's years in office in spite of his tough rhetoric against Tehran and the imposition of fresh economic sanctions.
Analysis of US government trade figures published yesterday by Associated Press revealed a near tenfold increase in US sales to Iran over the past seven years. Goods included cigarettes, aircraft spare parts, bras, musical instruments, films, sculpture, fur, golf carts and snowmobiles. Although the sums involved are small, the disclosure is a political embarrassment for the US, coming at a time when it has been putting pressure on European governments, banks and companies to cut ties with Tehran.
John Rankin, a US treasury spokesman, yesterday acknowledged there had been an increase but attributed this mainly to a change in legislation in 2000 that allowed the export of agricultural and medicinal goods. Before then trade had been effectively zero. He played down the exports as "miniscule" amounting to a quarter of 1% of all Iran's imports.
AP found data suggesting military equipment had been exported, even though there are sanctions to prevent this. The Treasury is still investigating but Rankin said initial findings indicated there had been no such sales and described the data as a "clerical error".
US government figures showed exports to Iran from 2001 to 2007 totalled $546m (£273m). It exported roughly $146m of goods last year, compared with $8.3m in 2001, Bush's first year in office.
The US has had sanctions in place against Iran since the Tehran embassy hostage crisis almost 30 years ago. During Bush's presidency, relations with Iran have become increasingly strained, with Washington claiming that Iran has embarked on a programme to build a nuclear weapon, which Tehran denies.
One of the Bush's administration's main instruments for putting pressure on Iran has been sanctions. Yesterday the White House announced fresh financial sanctions against Iranian officials and companies allegedly involved in its nuclear programme. But Tehran is awash with US goods mainly imported indirectly, usually through the United Arab Emirates.
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian specialist at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "You can get everything from an iPod to a Chevrolet in Tehran. I think this is a good thing. The more the Iranian population is exposed to American culture, which includes American products, the better for Iranian progress."
The US treasury received at least 4,523 licence applications for Iran exports in the past seven years, of which it approved at least 2,821 and denied only about 178. US export records show $148,000 worth of weapons and other military gear were exported, including $106,635 in rifles and $8,760 in rifle parts and accessories shipped in 2004. At least $13,000 in equipment needed to launch jets from aircraft carriers were also exported.
The treasury suggested yesterday the data had been reported incorrectly by officials. Rankin denied there was a contradiction between the rise in US exports and calls on Europe to cease trading with Iran. He said European companies were involved with finance but US exports involved food and medicine. He said: "Food and medicine are not tools we are going to use to put pressure on the regime."
US exports to Iran include:
- · Cigarettes: $158m (£80m)
- · Commercial aircraft parts: $620,000
- · Bras: $101,000
- · Perfume: $8,900
- · Cosmetics: $96,000
- · Musical instruments and parts : $30,000
- · Sculpture: $175,000
- · Golf carts and snowmobiles: $21,000
- · Movies: $4,000
- · Fur: $3,300