First Published: 2008-02-12

 
UAE open for Iran business as US seeks to choke Tehran
 

Thousands of Iranian firms continue doing business with top trading partner United Arab Emirates.

 

Middle East Online

By Lydia Georgi – DUBAI

It’s still business, but not as usual

Thousands of Iranian firms are still doing business in the country's top trading partner, the United Arab Emirates, despite a US drive to choke Tehran's economy over its controversial nuclear programme.

But US banking sanctions are also beginning to bite, industry sources say.

Iranian businesses "have not had any problem with local banks because we are considered UAE companies" under local rules requiring at least 51 percent of a business to be owned by an Emirati national, said Nasser Hashempour, executive deputy president of the Dubai-based Iranian Business Council.

The same goes for fully Iranian-owned firms operating out of free zones "because they are registered in the UAE and their sponsor is the free zone," which would withdraw their licence if they flouted the rules, he said.

Similarly, foreign banks with branches in the UAE continue to deal with firms that have Iranian partners, "but they are more cautious -- they scrutinise them more when extending facilities," Hashempour said.

However UAE-based branches of international banks have "asked most Iranian individuals who have personal accounts with them to close their accounts," he added.

Many international banks, including British-Asian bank HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Swiss giants UBS and Credit Suisse, have stopped dealing with Iran in line with sanctions imposed by the United States to pressure Tehran into halting its programme of uranium enrichment.

Washington has blacklisted Iran's three main banks -- Melli, Mellat and Saderat -- for allegedly handling financial services for its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and/or acting as a conduit for "terrorist financing."

A fourth Iranian bank, state-owned Sepah, is under UN sanctions stipulating a voluntary freeze by member states of its overseas assets, part of two sets of UN sanctions largely targeting Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile drives.

Washington and its Western allies are trying to expand UN sanctions against Iran, which denies Western allegations that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Hashempour said banks Melli and Saderat are still operating in the UAE and its Gulf Cooperation Council partners -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- but that their operations are hampered by the refusal of foreign banks to accept letters of credit they issue or otherwise deal with them.

US President George W. Bush accused Iran of being "the world's leading state sponsor of terror" when he visited the UAE in January.

The oil-rich UAE is a US ally and has a long-standing territorial dispute with the Islamic republic. But it also has wide-ranging links with its neighbour across the strategic Strait of Hormuz, with booming Dubai serving as the lung through which Iran breathes as Washington tightens the economic noose.

There are an estimated 450,000 Iranians living in the UAE out of a total population of more than 4.1 million. About 10,000 Iranian firms operate in the country, chiefly Dubai, according to Iranian figures.

Iranian embassy statistics put bilateral trade at 11.7 billion dollars in the Iranian year ending in March 2007, with imports from the UAE forming the bulk of the exchanges at 9.2 billion dollars.

The embassy expects bilateral trade to rise to about 14 billion dollars by the end of the current Iranian year next month.

UAE figures corroborate this projection. According to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry Iran was the largest market for its members last year, with non-oil exports totalling a massive 9.8 billion dollars -- a 33.4 percent increase on 7.3 billion dollars in exports in 2006.

Iranians in the UAE also have accumulated assets estimated at more than 300 billion dollars, Hashempour said.

An official UAE source who requested anonymity said that Abu Dhabi "strictly abides by UN sanctions" against Tehran, and cited a recent case of a vessel bound for Iran that docked in Dubai.

"We were suspicious of its shipment, checked it and found it to be a dual-use hazardous chemical on a banned UN list. We impounded the cargo and notified the Security Council," the official said.

"Having become the world's third major trading hub, the UAE also had to update its own laws and last year passed the Export Control Law, which is not directed against any particular country but is designed to protect the UAE from those who would try to use its open economy to engage in illicit trade," he said.

As for unilateral US sanctions, these would have to be applied by private banks and companies and "it is not for the UAE government to tell private companies what to do," the official added.

 

UN chief tells Israel, Palestine: Stop fighting, start talking!

Islamists lose in Libya parliament elections

UN chief denounces persecution of Iraqi Christians

Syria oil industry suffers huge losses because of war

Britain finds evidence of effort to Islamise state-run schools

Fiercest fighting in months hits Eastern Damascus

Iraq slams Jordan for hosting 'unacceptable' meeting of Sunni critics

Erdogan sacrifices Gaza mediation in favour of anti-Israel diatribes

Israel hits Al-Jazeera Gaza office

UN calls for help to vaccinate Syria toddlers against polio

Erdogan has stopped talking to Obama

Israel confirms kidnapped soldier is dead

South Sudan rebels pledge to pull troops out fails

Rouhani: More negotiations only solution for nuclear deal

Israel identify 12 soldiers killed over the weekend

UAE pledges $41 million aid for Gaza reconstruction

Security Council condemns persecution of Iraqi Christians

Deadly clashes erupt in Benghazi

27 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza assault

One of world’s oldest monasteries falls into hands of jihadists in Iraq

Syria rebels expel jihadists from four areas in Damascus region

Kuwait revokes citizenship of owner of pro-opposition Al-Youm TV

Diplomacy intensifies to end weeks of deadly violence in Gaza

Turkey imposes curfew on Hakkari town after clashes

UAE slams Doha-based Al-Jazeera over fabricated Gaza news

Syria to Russia: Thanks for supporting our victory!

Behind the scene: Kerry criticises Israel offensive on Gaza

IAEA says Iran complying with nuclear deal

France slams and bans ‘anti-Semitic’ Gaza rally

Kerry in Cairo to stop Mideast conflict

At least 47 killed in battle for Libya airport

Gaza death toll exceeds 500 amid UN impotence

Bahrain files lawsuit to suspend Al-Wefaq activities

Shejaiya massacre: Israel’s revenge for killing of 13 soldiers in Gaza

Egypt summons Turkey charge d'affaires over Erdogan’s criticism

South Sudanese rebels launch offensive to retake key town

Lebanon detains two over shocking child beating video

Syria President maintains mum on Faruq al-Sharaa

‘Islamic State’ claims responsibility for deadly Baghdad bombings

Bloody Sunday in Gaza as nearly 90 Palestinians killed

Egypt court reduces jail sentence for award-winning activist

Three years after devastating famine, new catastrophe looms in Somalia

Egypt vows revenge after bloody attack on border post

Islamists step up assault on Libya main airport