November 21, 2011 | The Jerusalem Post
The Vienna-Tehran Connection
“In the first eight months of this year, Austrian firms supplied goods and services worth a total of 189 million euros to the Islamic Republic, more than, for example, to Israel, Thailand or Ireland,” the Vienna daily Die Presse reported recently.
Austrian energy giant OMV continues to refuel Iran Air planes, in contrast to many fuel suppliers across Europe.
“While top-ranking British, European politicians are quite vocal about new Iran sanctions, Austria remains silent,” Dr. Diana Gregor, a Vienna-based specialist who has written and lectured on Austrian-Iran relations, wrote to The Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Friday.
“In recent years, Austria has strongly contributed to keeping the Iranian regime from international isolation, and has not taken any steps toward destroying the economic basis of the dictatorship of the ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards,” Gregor wrote.
Yacov Stiassny, from the Israel-based Central Committee for Jews in Austria, told the Post by phone from Bat Yam on Friday, “Yes, it is obvious what they [the government in Vienna] should be doing, but they are not doing it. Business is more important to Austria than its commitment to the Jewish people and Israel. It is a pity.
“Instead of taking care of the Jews who fled Austria, the Austrians are doing business with Iran,” he said.
He estimates that between 1,000 and 2,000 Austrian-born Jews live in Israel today. “Roughly 10,000 Austrian Jews fled to Palestine between 1938 and 1941,” he said. Stiassny stressed, however, that some came “illegally” and there are no exact numbers.
He was born in 1946 and grew up in Vienna. His parents survived Nazi extermination camps in Poland. He left Austria in 1967 to make aliya.
Stiassny travels to Vienna twice a year. “My mother still lives in Vienna, and my sister,” he said.
When asked about trade with Iran, Bernhard Salzer, a spokesman for the chamber of commerce in Austria (WKÖ), wrote the Post by e-mail on Friday that his group “represents the interests of 440,000 Austrian companies in Austria. The WKÖ does not itself have any business relations with Iran…”
As for sanctions, the WKÖ adheres to “all international and European resolutions” and “it is our duty to best inform our member companies about the international rules” so that “international sanctions like those against Iran can be followed.”
Dr. Wolfram Moritz, who heads the WKÖ’s Iran trade section, declined to answer questions on the telephone and referred queries to Salzer.
Asked about what companies are active in Iran, the nature of their work, trade volume, and whether the WKÖ had concerns about representing the business interests of companies dealing with Iran’s government because of its Holocaust denial and its nuclear weapons program, Salzer did not immediately return Post e-mails and telephone calls.
According to the Die Presse article, the WKÖ is the main contact organization for advice regarding Austrian exports to Iran.
Dr. Ariel Muzicant, the head of Austria's 7,430-member organized Jewish community, wrote the Post on Thursday by e-mail, “The Europeans have it in their hands as to whether Iran obtains a nuclear bomb or not. There are three measures that could force Iran to end its [nuclear] program.
“Ban flights to Iran and [provide] no air-space rights for Iranian or other airline companies” dealing with Iran, he advised.
“The supply of machines, spare parts, tools and other heavy equipment” to Iran should be stopped, he continued.
Every Iranian who seeks to fly to Europe should have to apply for a visa, with the exception of humanitarian cases, Muzicant wrote. “But the Europeans would rather conduct business and accept a possible catastrophe.”
Gregor, the Vienna-based expert, wrote the Post, “Austria should suspend all business with companies supplying Iran with refined fuel, or put a moratorium on new deals. The Austrian government should prevent banks from giving loans, insurances or grants to foreign companies supplying Iran with energy resources.”
She continued, “All foreign assets held by members of the Iranian government should be frozen. Austria should suspend all (future) guaranteed public subsidies designated for economic development in Iran (especially those going toward the energy sector). Austria would have to ensure that insurance companies do not insure Iranian tankers and liquefied [petroleum gas] containers that supply Iran, and thereby ‘feed’ the Iranian nuclear program.”
A Post e-mail query to the Austrian Foreign Ministry was not immediately returned.
Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said earlier this month that his government has not decided on its policy toward new penalties to punish Tehran for the development of nuclear weapons.
The Vienna Municipality provides educational and cultural space to Iran’s embassy for events.
Eva Gassner, a spokeswoman for the city government, wrote the Post last week that “event centers are open to all groups, organizations or private persons independent of their cultural, religious or global background perspectives.”
The “events have to take place in accordance with conditions outlined by the authorities and legal regulations,” she said.
Asked if Iran’s policy of Holocaust denial contradicts Vienna’s educational work, Gassner did not immediately answer.
Austria has an anti-hate law barring denial of the Shoah.