Austria: Iran's gateway to Europe

Vienna must cancel its multi-billion gas deal with Teheran.

vienna 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
vienna 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Hitler entered Austria in March 1938, he was welcomed by an extraordinarily large number of Austrians who advocated the "Anschluss" with Germany. A disproportionate number of Austrians served the Nazi death machinery to carry out the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Question." Despite these facts, for more than 50 years Austria portrayed itself as the first victim of national-socialism. It took a new generation of historians and politicians to acknowledge - 30 years after the Eichmann trial - that Austrians were actually involved in mass murder. During the last decade Austria has worked to present itself as a country which has dealt with its past and drawn the appropriate historical lessons. But one has to ask: Which lessons have been learned? Certainly not the most crucial one: defending Israel's right to exist. In April 2007 Austria's partially state-owned oil company, OMV, signed an agreement with Iran on a joint natural gas project. The total investment amounts to 22 billion euros over the next 25 years. Experts believe that these revenues will be used to finance the Iranian nuclear weapons program and undermine present international sanctions. OMV is not just any company. It is the biggest oil corporation in central Europe. The state of Austria holds 31.5% of its shares. Wolfgang Ruttensdorfer, CEO of this company, served for several years in the Austrian government as a member of the Social Democratic party, which always had close ties with OMV. THIS IS not the first time that OMV is breaking problematic ground. It was OMV that made the first Western gas deal with the Soviet Union in 1968. The first round of gas imports started just after the Prague Spring was crushed by Warsaw Pact tanks. In the 1980s OMV signed a deal with Libya as part of an international consortium, and at the end of the 1990s, it signed one with civil-war-torn Sudan. The company's then press officer argued that despite the risk in Sudan, OMV had to go where finding oil was the cheapest, and where American competition need not be feared. In 2003 OMV was left as the only international corporation in Sudan - other companies pulled out after the crisis culminated and tens of thousands were murdered by Arab militia sponsored by the Sudanese government in Darfur. Later that year, OMV sold its shares to Asian companies. OMV's business with Iran is a logical continuation of this company's involvement with dictatorial regimes that suppress and murder their own people. However, Iran is different - the mullahs' repeated threats to annihilate Israel and the unique form of their regime elevates this deal to an existential question, not only for the Jewish people but for the whole world, which is threatened by the violent expansion of Islamic rule. NEVERTHELESS, this deal is backed by all parties represented in the Austrian parliament. Social Democrats, Conservatives, Greens and the far right have closed ranks against demands to cancel the negotiations with Iran. Ironically, Austrian Social Democratic Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer recently made it very clear that human rights have to be subordinated to business interests. His government has no intention of interfering despite the ongoing oppressions of the Iranian terror regime. Recent criticism from German chancellor Angela Merkel, who said that Austria was setting a dangerous precedent in establishing such a deal, was countered by insistence on the private nature of OMV - even though the state is the company's largest shareholder. On February 3 Albert Steinhauser, Green speaker for Justice, was the first member of parliament to sign our on-line petition against the OMV-Iran deal. There is hope that his courage might set an example that will be followed by more parliamentarians who finally understand that now is the time to act. During the recent visit of a delegation of Iranian parliamentarians in December 2007, Helmut Kukacka, conservative MP and head of the Austrian-Iranian parliamentarian group, talked about the good bilateral relations that have continued after the Islamic revolution. "Austria is very keen on strengthening the friendship between the two countries," he said. Another conservative, Michael Spindelegger, second president of the national council, commended the Iranian delegation for continuing an in-depth dialogue. The discussion was remarkable for what it lacked: Iranian's wish to eliminate Israel. Their points shed light on the Austrian conscience, which has a history of forgetting and repressing - up to the point where Austria refuses to actually do something to prevent another killing of Jews. AUSTRIA'S posture toward Iran has always been one of treating the mullahs' regime with kid-gloves. In 1989 the leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Abdel Rahman Ghassemlou, was murdered in Vienna by the Iranian regime. No suspect, among them reportedly Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was ever held responsible by a court for this crime. Instead Iranian diplomats pressured Austrian government officials to close the case, focusing on the Iranian commando found at the murder site. As soon as the commando left Austria, warrants were issued for his arrest, but remain without consequence. Austria has tried to improve ties in every sector of the Iranian economy. In the midst of the Iraq-Iran war, VOEST, a state-owned steel company, sent 200 cannons via Libya to Iran. In recent years the Austrian weapons company Steyr-Mannlicher sold high-powered rifles to Iran. According to the American Enterprise Institute, the military-industrial complex accounts for 11 percent of Austrian-Iranian trade. Some of these weapons were found in Iraq, where they were used by Iranian-supported insurgents to kill American soldiers. SINCE 2002, Austrian exports to Iran have doubled, but are still in the millions, not billions. The planned OMV deal with Iran would change this, bringing Austria and Europe into a long-term strategic partnership with the Iranian regime. As Iranian Chamber of Commerce president Ali Naghi Khamoushi put it in November 2006, "Austria is the gate to the European Union for us." In March 2008, Austria will officially mourn 70 years since the "Anschluss." Two months later Austria will join the celebrations of 60 years since the establishment of the State of Israel. These events should be considered opportunities for some moral soul-searching. Austria must turn its moral rhetoric into tangible action if it wants to prove that it has learned its lessons. Stopping Iran from going nuclear by canceling the largest oil deal between a European company and the mullahs would set the tone and fill these words with content. The writer is spokesperson of 'STOP THE BOMB' (, which has launched a petition against the OMV-Iran deal, and co-editor of the upcoming book Iran - An analysis of the Islamic Republic and its European Supporters.