Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Viennese Waltz: Austria Dances Around Issue of Nuclear Iran

by Diana Gregor

Europe is willingly swallowing Iran's nuclear non-compliance. Austria, which joined the EU in 1995, is comfortably taking a big gulp too.

Vienna has become a hub of operations for the Iranian Quds force, an elite brigade within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Due to the fact that OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is headquartered in Vienna, Austria has long been at the center of Iranian covert activities. Quds agents are believed to purchase dual-use equipment and technology, which can be used as components for Iran's nuclear weapons development program. Austrian agencies are said to be reluctant to cooperate with allied intelligence services.

The Iranian nuclear program and Iran's hidden nuclear agenda have not only brought about an imbalance in the Middle East and in the Gulf Region, but have also created a critical situation with regard to security throughout the world. The developments of the past years, and Iran's current nuclear policies, do not point toward a change of heart.

Recently, Tehran proved once again that it is in total control of its nuclear aspirations by repeatedly postponing talks with the P5+1 (the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany). The West is apparently willing to submit to yet another round of Iran's special brand of diplomacy, which consists of indicating openness to renew negotiations, while at the same time asserting that there is nothing to talk about.

Austria is a small country, not necessarily among the key players when it comes to negotiating with the Iranians, but in recent times Vienna has gained relevance ever since Austria became a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Austria has accrued a reputation of being soft on Iran, ever since it joined forces with Italy in 2008 to head, within the European Union, a group against additional pressures and measures against the Islamic Republic. Since then, public pressure on Austria has continuously mounted. The United States, Great Britain and France have all complained about Vienna's "slack" position.

Recently, a diplomat based in Vienna was quoted as saying: "It is a typically Viennese thing; not looking too closely and allowing things to go on as long as Austria has nothing at stake. Vienna is a weak link when it comes to sanctions."

There are approximately 680 Austrian companies that have business dealings with Iranian companies or the Iranian state. Around 35 Austrian companies have branch offices in Iran; another 500 have business dealings with the Islamic Republic every now

and then. Today, only a few speak publicly about their involvement with Iran. In 2006, the Iranian Chamber of Trade President Khamoushi even went so far as to say "Austria is our gateway to the European Union."

As a result of the global financial crisis, Austria's total worldwide exports shrank by 20% last year. Meanwhile, the country's exports to Iran grew by 6%.

The international community is faced with a dilemma consisting of two scenarios: Attack Iran militarily before it produces a nuclear weapon, or gains the parts with which to construct one - or live with an Iranian bomb.

Although the past seven years have shown that Iran does not react to diplomacy without preconditions, and indicate that Iran is negotiating merely as a means of buying time, top-ranking British, French and German politicians are quite vocal about new Iran sanctions, Austria, however, remains silent. In recent years, Austria has repeatedly contributed to keeping the Iranian regime from international isolation, and has not helped with taking steps toward destroying the economic basis of the dictatorship of the Ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards.

Austria's responsibility reaches far beyond the implementation of tough Iran sanctions. Austria needs to jump on the bandwagon and realize that for the future stability of Europe -- not to be subjected to blackmail by nuclear threats -- the Islamic Republic must abolish its nuclear weapons development program: Iran must be stopped.

Diana Gregor

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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