Benjamin Weinthal, the Jerusalem Post‘s Berlin correspondent, charges in WSJ Europe that European firms and governments, particularly those in Germany and Austria, are actively supporting the regime in Teheran and are at best indifferent to Iran’s nuclear program. 

He highlights a series of major deals, many of which involve so-called “dual use” technologies (that is, those with both military and commercial application) and observes,

All of this is taking place while Iran is moving at an astonishing pace to process high-grade uranium for its atomic bomb. Iran’s launch of its first domestically produced satellite on Tuesday prompted an alarmed French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier to underscore the link between Iran’s military nuclear capability and its compatibility with the satellite technology.

Trade and security experts assert that Iran cannot easily replace high-tech German engineering technology with that from competitor nations such as China and Russia. The hollow pleas by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who favors a policy of moral pressure to convince corporations to be “sensitive” about cutting new deals with the regime in Tehran, did not prevent her administration from approving over 2,800 commercial deals with Iran in 2008.

Weinthal’s solution is more sunlight:

Transparency is badly needed in this area. The German Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) refuses to disclose the nature of these agreements. Economics Minister Michael Glos, who oversees BAFA and is considered an advocate of trade with Iran, should reveal the names of the firms commencing trade with a country that sponsors terror organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The German firms are hiding behind a wall of nondisclosure to avoid being blacklisted on the U.S market.

Beyond that, he’d like to see a halt to the deals.

German legislation prohibiting trade with Iran, coupled with an immediate cessation of credit guarantees, would decisively setback, if not stop, Iran’s nuclear weapons program and set an invaluable example for other EU countries to adapt for their own companies.

This highlights a longstanding problem in international security affairs: one country’s potential adversary is another’s potential trading partner. European states often make different calculations on these matters than do the United States or Israel.  We saw that throughout the latter part of the Cold War, when West Germany was eager to trade with not only its brothers in Communist East Germany but with the Soviets themselves.   While I can’t recall a case off the top of my head, I presume that the United States has from time to time sold technology to countries that one or more European states would have preferred we hadn’t.

While Germany may prefer that the Iranian mullahs not get their hands on nuclear weapons, they’re clearly willing to take that risk — indeed, aid and abet them in doing so — at the right price.    While Weinthal’s call for transparency sounds like a fine step, the mere fact that he is able to list so many deals in his piece would seem evidence that the information is already out there.  Presumably, the United States has decided to ignore the matter or pursue quiet diplomacy rather than risking a trade war with a key ally.

And, sure, their banning the practice would make the United States and, especially, Israel happy.  Given that former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his successor, representing thereby both of Germany’s major political parties, have been quite happy to deal with Iran makes is rather less than likely.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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