SA faces pressure over Iran

2012-02-18 17:42

South Africa is facing increasing pressure to rethink its relationship with Iran following a visit by British foreign secretary William Hague this week and intended US sanctions that may hurt South Africa’s oil supply.

Hague visited this week on a mission to show how Britain is expanding its relations on the African continent, but also to urge South Africa to get more involved with the Iranian issue.

Iran is developing nuclear capabilities which some countries believe is for sinister purposes – to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran denies this, and this week it showed off its new nuclear technology with president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad introducing it to the world.

A letter to European Union chief Catherine Ashton was leaked to CNN this week, showing that Iran was willing to engage in talks, but EU countries remained skeptical.

South Africa has elevated status in the International Atomic Energy Association because it voluntarily gave up its nuclear capabilities at the fall of apartheid.

It is the chair of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy as well as the United Nations 1540 committee, established to ensure countries take measures to prevent nuclear proliferation.

It irks Western countries that South Africa refuses to take a hard line on Iran, and South African officials don’t hide the fact that this stance is influenced by the fact that the country gets a quarter of its oil from the Middle Eastern country.

“South Africa is not able to escape Iran for much longer, they need to make a decision on it,” a British official said.

South Africa has been reluctant to jump on the ­anti-Iran bandwagon because it sees that the International Atomic Energy Association reports do not provide sufficient proof to accuse Iran of wrongdoing.

During Hague’s visit he insisted European Union sanctions against Iran would be maintained for as long as it took.

When asked about the sanctions, which kick in on July 1, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane got irritated.

“It is entirely their [the EU’s] baby and South Africa will deal with the unintended consequences that come with the fallout,” she said at a press conference in Cape Town.

But the screws are being tightened by the US, who are proposing sanctions which imply the countries who buy Iranian oil may be barred from accessing US financial services through the Federal Reserve Bank.

The US sent a Treasury official to South Africa this week to meet with banks, government officials and business people to discuss the effect of these sanctions.

The visit was also meant to encourage South Africa to lessen its dependence on Iranian oil, which is a hard task given that South Africa’s refineries are tailor-made to use Iranian oil.

A senior South African government official said Iran was on the agenda for the next cabinet meeting, and that the department of energy was looking into finding alternative sources of oil.

“We wanted to stay out of the fight between the West and Iran, but now the US is putting pressure on us and the energy department is looking at other sources of oil.”

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