Despite US pressure, Merkel unlikely to close Iran bank

Hamburg institution reportedly funneled over $1 billion to Iran.

Merkel worried 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Merkel worried 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains unlikely to order the closure of the Hamburg-based Iranian bank (EIH), which has reportedly funneled over $1 billion into Iran’s military and ballistic weapons programs, despite reported pressure from President Barack Obama.
A spokeswoman for Merkel wrote in an e-mail to the The Jerusalem Post this week that “in the concrete case of the EIH Bank, this is a financial institution under German law located in Hamburg. As such, the EIHB is subject to very strict controls on the part of the German bank monitoring authorities.”
Earlier this month, John Vinocur, senior correspondent and columnist of the International Herald Tribune, wrote of Germany’s “reluctance” and “hesitation to clamp down on a bank in Hamburg facilitating suspect European deals with Iran.”
This reluctance, he added, “resulted in a recent phone call, to no immediate avail,” from Obama to Merkel.
Merkel’s spokeswoman did not directly answer the Post’s query about why this reported presidential request had been rejected.
The US Treasury Department has classified EIH as a terrorist entity because of its involvement with nuclear proliferation and terror activities. The EIH Bank is banned in the US.
The governments of France, the United States and the United Kingdom made great efforts to convince the German Foreign Ministry in advance of the July EU sanctions against Iran to shut down the bank’s operations. Critics have charged Germany, which is Iran’s No. 1 European trade partner, with prioritizing short-term trade profits with Teheran over the security of Israel and the West.
Merkel’s spokeswoman told the Post that “in the European context, at the European Council on June 17, the chancellor advocated rapid and more extensive implementation of the UN sanctions on the European level.”
She added that “the German chancellor and the American president agree on their analysis of the situation and further steps in regard to Iran. The goal is and remains to move Iran to completely fulfill its obligations to the Security Council and the IAEA and to cooperate in order to eliminate the significant doubts about its nuclear program.”
Saba Farzan, a leading German- Iranian expert, told the Post on Tuesday that “it is not sufficient to put this bank just under control – not nearly. The right measure at this time would be to ban this bank from doing business.
In Germany, both the public and policy-makers tend to forget what a strong impact the unilateral sanctions by the Bush administration in 2007 had. German banks started to step out of the Iran business after the pressure by US officials.”
She added, “Now imagine what an impact it would have if the German government imposed an effective unilateral tool by banning this precise bank from doing business in our country. Germany should have a great interest to stop Iran getting its hands on a nuclear bomb – for peace and stability in the Middle East and also for our own security. I do see Chancellor Merkel as committed in preventing this nightmare, but I would love to see all our politicians living up to their responsibility.”
Merkel’s spokeswoman also issued the administration’s first statement on the controversial July Bundestag resolution which slammed Israel for the fatal May 31 raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara and criticized the Gaza blockade.
She told the Post that “the German Bundestag parliamentary factions came to a unanimous resolution on the motion – ‘Investigate the events surrounding the Gaza flotilla, improve the situation of the people of Gaza, support the Middle East peace process’– on July 1, 2010. The Bundestag acts in its own right. The Bundestag decision speaks for itself. It is not the executive’s job to comment on resolutions by the German Bundestag.”
Jewish and non-Jewish NGOs sharply criticized the resolution as fiercely onesided and anti-Semitic. Germany’s parliament was the only EU member parliament to devote a legislative session to the issue.