Trade With Iran a Risky Proposition: Ambassador Wallace

As Iran looks to rehabilitate itself on the world stage, there are many who believe that it will renege on its commitment to the p5+1 nuclear deal. Ambassador Wallace is one such sceptic
Special Correspondent Washington DC

Mark D. Wallace is an American businessman, former diplomat and lawyer who has served in several positions during the administration of President George W. Bush, including as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and as the Representative for UN Management and Reform.

He is currently the CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a non-profit, "non-partisan" seeking to halt Iran's ambitions at becoming a nuclear power. Quite evidently, UANI and its members disagree with the Obama administration on Iran and the arduous exercise they undertook to bring back Tehran into the international order. UANI was keen to stop India and Prime MInister Narendra Modi from engaging with Iran and striking a deal on Chabahar port. Close reading of the interview would make it amply clear that UANI and others opposed to the Iran deal have not given up their hopes of the country being consigned to the sanction era again. Ambassador Wallace also gives ample evidence of why US companies are reluctant to invest in Iran even after the signing of the P5+1 deal. According to him  United States continues to designate the entire Iranian financial sector as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Ambassador Wallace disagrees that UANI opposition to Iran is similar to that of Saudi Arabia and Israel. UANI is also discouraging Indian banks like Union Bank of India ( UBI) and Axis Bank to engage with Tehran  and a metals company, NALCO,from entering into a partnership with an Iranian company. Excerpts from the Interview: 

Why are you not satisfied with the P5+1 deal with Iran. Why do you doubt Iran’s nuclear intentions when your President and other European powers think it’s a good deal?

The JCPOA was transactional, not transformational.  It is a limited, narrow arms-control agreement, with significant shortcomings.  Among them are: the lack of anytime, anywhere inspections; the ineffectiveness of the snapback sanctions mechanism; and the ability of Iran to race towards a nuclear weapon after nearly a decade.  Iran has signalled its intention to vastly expand its nuclear program at that time, placing the international community in peril. And in the interim, Iran has intensified its regional aggression and antagonism, ballistic missile tests, and human rights abuses.

Why do you think that Indian government should listen to your warnings about dealing with Iran? Don’t you think that India knows its national interest better and has the necessary inputs to take a decision in favour of restoring ties with Iran? Are you aware of the old civilizational links between the two countries?

UANI is aware of the economic and political links between Iran and India.  UANI is also aware of similar ties between India, the US and numerous other countries in the region that feel threatened by Iranian aggression. I doubt it is in India’s national interest to side with a state associated with terrorism, corruption and money laundering over a confederation of responsible state actors opposed to Iranian regional hegemony. Moreover, if India wants to oppose corruption and terrorism, it cannot at the same time embolden and reward a regime that is notoriously corrupt and also the world leading state sponsor of terrorism.  Indian leaders should back up their rhetoric with action and use its ties and link to Iran to influence the regime to change its terrorist behaviour and corrupt business environment instead of prematurely rewarding Iran with Indian business.

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Why do you think is India not listening to those who don’t want to deal with Iran? Is it due to US pressure to normalise ties with Tehran or is it entirely Indian government that decided to go ahead with Iran’s agreements?

India is an independent sovereign nation and certainly appears to have interests in engaging with Iran – oil and natural gas demand, circumventing Pakistan, etc. – but this short-term gain imperils India’s long-term interest.  Business deals clinched with Iran today can unravel tomorrow given the fragility of the nuclear deal, the likelihood that sanctions will be re-imposed, the arbitrary whims of Iran’s corrupt and autocratic government and IRGC control over Iranian economic sectors such as energy, civil engineering, manufacturing, shipping, and telecommunications.  Doing business in Iran without also doing business with the sanctioned IRGC in some manner is a near impossible task.  

Your caution to India also had a not so veiled suggestion that it should deal with Iran at its own peril as the forthcoming US Presidential election may throw up a winner who may be opposed to P5+1 deal? How confident are you that the Iran agreement will be scrapped?

 The primary threat to the nuclear deal is not necessarily the next US President, but the Iranian regime’s own belligerence and extremism. Iran’s conduct has arguably worsened since the deal was signed: a human rights crackdown has intensified, Iran has intervened more aggressively in Syria, and the regime has continued test-firing long-range ballistic missiles in defiance of the UN Security Council, including launching a missile on March 9 emblazoned with the regime axiom, “Israel must be wiped out.”  And at the same time that Iran is solidifying its place as an international outlaw and force for instability, it has the audacity to complain that the United States is not fulfilling its obligations under the deal because international banks and businesses are responsibly avoiding this risky environment.  As a result, it is the Supreme Leader of Iran and other leading officials of the regime, not America, that have threatened to walk away from the agreement. 

You also charge Iran for being corrupt and caution India from dealing with it? What evidence do you have on Iranian corruption? Has any Indian company figured in your arc of investigation?

 The United States continues to designate the entire Iranian financial sector as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act.  The international anti-money laundering and terror-finance watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), also warned in February of Iran's “failure to address the risk of terrorist financing and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system.”  Further, in Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, Iran ranks 130 out of 168 countries. The fact is that even before sanctions were imposed, Iran was never a good place for responsible business.

These risks are particularly acute for financial institutions which could be cut off from the US financial system.  UANI has highlighted these risks in correspondence with Union Bank of India and Axis Bank.  UANI has also warned state-owned Indian metals company NALCO to forgo a partnership it is considering with IRALCO, which has been a key facilitator in Iran’s illicit nuclear procurement network.

The content of your opposition against Iran is similar to what we read in Israeli and Saudi Arabian newspapers. Do you think articulating their interest also serves US interests?

 UANI is a bipartisan American organization comprised of an Advisory Board of leading former diplomats and lawmakers. And we would assume that standing in opposition to the leading state sponsor of terrorism would be in every nations’ interest, including the US and India.

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