Austrian coalition aims to thwart deal for Iran oil pipeline to Europe

Post learns Austria has reached eleventh hour to act against Iranian oil, gas deal to ensure independence from the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions.

Iranian Oil 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iranian Oil 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Austria has reached the eleventh hour to act against an oil and gas deal with Iran to ensure independence from the Iranian regime and its nuclear ambitions, Simone Hartmann, a founder of the Austrian Stop the Bomb coalition, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. The Austrian company OMV Group, the largest provider of oil and gas in central Europe, is currently in the midst of a deal with Iran. OMV is a public company, but the Austrian government owns about 32 percent of the shares. Since 2002, trade between Austria and Iran has doubled, with military deals accounting for 11%, according to Hartmann. "Europe has to deal with [Iran] now," she said. "The time to act is now and impose tougher sanctions, and prevent a war that Iran has already begun - not only on its own population, but also abroad." Stop the Bomb was founded in September 2007, out of a recognized need to prevent a partnership between Austrian companies and Iran. As a coalition, the members aim to increase awareness and pressure throughout Austria to cease collaboration with the Islamic Republic. The group also supports the Iranian opposition, which has been working tirelessly for 30 years to rid Iran of the current regime, Hartmann said. "As long as Europeans are reluctant to increase sanctions on Iran, there will be no progress," Hartmann said. "Because Iran will not stop their nuclear program without pressure." The Austrian coalition created a petition against the OMV deal, and gathered some 5,000 signatures from local leaders, artists, former politicians and three Noble Prize winners - including Eli Weisel. Albert Steinhauser, a member of the Green Party in the Austrian parliament, also signed the petition, despite all parliamentary parties' approval of the deal. Hartmann, who holds one share of OMV, attended a shareholders' meeting in mid-May, in order to voice her opposition to the Iranian partnership. When she began to speak about the human rights violations currently taking place in Iran, she said that she was immediately silenced by company directors and booed by the public. "They didn't want to hear [what I was saying]," Hartmann said. "If we have a code of conduct, how can we go along with a regime that ignores human rights?" A growing trend among Stop the Bomb members is purchasing shares in Austrian companies, in order to influence future deals. Two weeks ago, French oil and gas company Total put their deal with Iran on hold, and it is both worrisome and questionable that the Austrian OMV company has not followed that lead, Hartmann said. Since the OMV deal was signed with Iran, there have been no new developments, OMV Group spokesman Thomas Huemer told the Post. The company is still in negotiations, with "no end in sight," he added. "Discussion is part of a democratic society," Huemer said. "Our task it to bring more gas to Europe, within the frameworks of national and international law. [Critics] may have a different point of view, but that's how it is in democracies." The Austrian company is also the main sponsor for the NABUCCO gas pipeline project, which intends to build a pipeline from the Caspian basin to central Europe. The project would create a direct link between Europe and Iran, Hartmann said, since Iran's involvement would be necessary. The pipeline is planned to start its first phase of construction in 2010, and will be ready for partial operation by 2013. New governmental elections will be taking place in Austria in two months. Until then, Hartmann said she believes nothing will change, due to the current focus on political campaign. "I hope that there will be a party in parliament that will step out of the mainstream, [which] backs the [OMV] deal, and that Austria will change course as to how to deal with the Iranian threat," she said. Austria has a responsibility to learn from its mistakes regarding the country's involvement in the Holocaust, said Heribert Schiedel, Stop the Bomb member and researcher on anti-Semitism at the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance. "It is [history] that teaches us, never again," Schiedel said. "It's up to us... to do everything against Iran's [development] of a nuclear bomb." The coalition has made huge strides since its establishment, and had brought the Iranian threat into discussion throughout Austrian society, Hartmann said, which was not the case just one year ago.