U.S. frustration with German chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, seems to have reached a breaking point this week. Germany’s recalcitrant position about shutting down Iran’s main financial conduit in Europe – the Hamburg-based European-Iranian Trade Bank (EIH) – prompted a bipartisan group of U.S. senators on February 1 to issue a strongly worded letter to German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle.
“We write to express our grave concern with the continued financial support of Iran’s nuclear proliferation activity by Europäisch-Iranische Handelsbank (EIH) in Hamburg and urge the German government to take immediate action to end these practices,” eleven senators wrote.
While the tone of the letter noted that Germany shares the concerns of the international community about Iran’s human rights violations, nuclear program, and support for terrorism, the senators ratcheted up the language by saying, “Yet, the continued operation of EIH allows the Iranian regime to skirt the sanctions and undercut their effectiveness.”
In short, the senators are charging the German government with being an accomplice to busting Iranian sanctions, and in connection with not stopping Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons. The German Foreign Ministry says that they are reviewing the letter and will issue a reply.
The Treasury Department designated the EIH a global terrorist entity last year, and said, “As one of Iran’s few remaining access points to the European financial system, EIH has facilitated a tremendous volume of transactions for Iranian banks previously [blacklisted] for proliferation.“
Here is the full letter:
The letter was signed by the following senators: Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Barbara Boxer (D- CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Scott Brown (R-MA), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).
A side note: Germany will be hosting the Munich Security Conference beginning today, and its ongoing protection of the Iranian terror bank EIH seems to make a mockery of one of the conference’s aim, namely, to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program. Iran’s nuclear program played a central role at last year’s Munich conference, though to little avail.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.