Daimler drops plans to sell Teheran missile-launch trucks

German auto giant also giving up stake in Iran engine firm.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
April 16, 2010 02:05
3 minute read.
Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of Daimler AG and hea

dieter zetsche 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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BERLIN – The flagship German automaker Daimler AG will cancel the delivery of three-axle commercial vehicles to Iran, which could be converted into missile-launch platforms, and will sell its 30 percent stake in Iranian Diesel Engine Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Khodro Diesel, Daimler said on Wednesday.

The company announced the moves at its annual stockholder meeting here. In what appears to be a clear reference to Teheran’s nuclear program, Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, said, “The policies of the current Iranian leadership have compelled us to put our business relationship with that country on a new footing.”

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Israeli diplomats had complained to German Chancellor Merkel’s administration that heavy trucks can be used to fuel Iranian fighter plans and fire rockets.

The auto manufacturer seemed to time its criticism of Iran’s leadership with the anti-nuclear proliferation conference held in Washington this week. Ben Smith, from the news site Politico, reported on his blog that a senior Obama administration praised Daimler on Wednesday.

“More and more countries and companies are recognizing the problems associated with doing business in Iran. Daimler is only the latest,” according to an e-mail from the unnamed Obama official.

Jonathan Weckerle, a spokesman for the German chapter of the Stop the Bomb organization, bought Daimler shares and on Wednesday, he asked hard questions at the stockholder meeting about the firm’s role in Iran.

He told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that Daimler’s decision to “end the aggressive lobby politics for the export of dual-use goods like trucks, which can be used as missile-launching platforms, and the separation from the Iranian Diesel Engine Manufacturing Company, are the first positive steps.”



Weckerle added, however, that “in 2009, Daimler delivered 8,653 trucks to Dubai without special export controls. Daimler will continue to work with the Iranian state company Khodro and industrial Mercedes trucks are continued to be offered on an Iranian trade partner Web site (Iran Khodro Diesel). Without continued reductions and export controls, the Daimler move remains a public relation’s measure.”

The European Union’s trade with Iran totaled $35 billion in 2008. Stop the Bomb – with chapters in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Austria – seeks to significantly curtail trade between Iran and the EU, and to generate support for the pro-democracy movement in Iran.

Daimler boss Zetsche said none of the company’s “measures are directed against the Iranian people... In view of the current political situation we have... extensively reassessed this business relationship.”

The maker of Mercedes-Benz autos and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of luxury cars is following the lead of energy and engineering company Siemens AG, which announced in January that it plans to reduce its business in Iran. Beginning in June, Siemens plans to stop signing new deals with the Islamic Republic.

Asked by the Post why Daimler did business with a government that denies the Holocaust and threatens to obliterate Israel, Daimler spokeswoman Ute Wüest von Vellberg declined to concretely comment.

Wüest von Vellberg wrote, however, that “a special responsibility for Israel and Jewish culture results from German and company [Daimler] history... The German-Israeli Forum carries out its yearly visit in our Sindelfingen plant and the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart."


The company “has accepted the moral and historical responsibility for slave labor at our operations during the period of National Socialism,” she said.

The spokeswoman noted that company supports “humanitarian activity” of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference).

Political observers view Stop the Bomb as playing a decisive role in changing the pro-Iranian trade and political climate in Germany. The organization was largely credited – through its public awareness and protest campaign – with forcing Siemens to walk away from the Islamic Republic after more than a century of intense business activity in Iran.

The respected German business daily Handelsblatt wrote at the time, “After the NGO Stop the Bomb publicly criticized Siemens activity in Iran and warned the firm about facing sanctions on the US market, Siemens announced at its stockholder meeting that it will not accept new Iran business transactions.”

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