SA's close ties to Iran under scrutiny

2012-02-08 13:49

Johannesburg - The West's increasing pressure on Iran has meant scrutiny for South African businesses that operate in the Middle Eastern nation accused of having nuclear ambitions.

South African-Iranian political ties have long been close, and that has meant close business ties.

Politically connected telecommunications company MTN has been accused of pushing the government to support Iran's nuclear power programme. And energy and chemicals company Sasol is reviewing its Iranian investments. Iranian oil makes up nearly a third of South Africa's oil imports.

Iran denies charges from the United States and its allies that it is trying to produce an atomic weapon and says its nuclear programmes are for energy and other peaceful needs.


South Africa, the only nation in the world to have voluntarily surrendered a nuclear weapons programme, says all nations should have the right to exploit atomic energy's peaceful potential. South Africa has uranium reserves and its own nuclear power programme.

Foreign affairs department spokesperson Clayson Monyela said this week that South Africa has told Iran that it is ready to help any country that wants to follow its lead and give up nuclear weapons.

South Africa began disarming in the waning years of apartheid in the early 1990s, and has submitted itself to International Atomic Energy Agency verification that it dismantled its nuclear weapons.

Thomas Wheeler, a retired South African diplomat, said Iran's "problems would go away" if, as South Africa did, it allowed the international agency full access.

Instead, Iranians "create the suspicion that they're up to something," said Wheeler, who now works for the independent South African Institute of International Affairs.

Wheeler said South African-Iranian ties are close, but complicated. He said Iran supported the ANC when it was an anti-apartheid movement, but also supplied oil to the white minority government both before and after the shah's fall.

On Monday, trying to pressure Iran to divert from what the West sees as a drive toward a nuclear bomb, the United States gave US banks additional powers to freeze assets linked to the Iranian government and close loopholes that officials say Iran has used to move money despite earlier restrictions imposed by the US and Europe. In January, the European Union announced it would ban Iranian crude oil imports starting in July. The US doesn't buy oil from Iran.

Shift in SA policy

Monyela, of the South African foreign affairs department, said that so far, Western moves against Iran have not affected South African policy. But he did not rule out a possible shift.

South Africa has often expressed concerns that the West is hiding its true intentions when it calls for steps against a developing country. South Africa has complained, for example, that a UN resolution calling for protecting civilians in Libya was misused. South Africa supported the resolution, then argued that a Nato bombing campaign that followed amounted to an illegal, violent attempt at regime change.

While diplomats may be slow to act for political reasons, South African business may have little room to manoeuvre. The US move on banks could make it hard to pay Iran for its oil. And having close business ties with Iran might make it hard to do business in the US and Europe.

Last week, Sasol said it was reconsidering its business ties. Sasol added that Iran supplies it about 12 000 barrels a day of crude.

"In view of recent developments regarding trade restrictions and possible oil sanctions against Iran, Sasol Oil is diversifying its crude oil sourcing, to mitigate risks associated with oil supply disruptions from the Middle East," Sasol said.

Another major South African company, MTN, owns 49% of the Iranian mobile company Irancell. A Turkish company that was an unsuccessful bidder for a telecommunications license in Iran has hinted it will challenge the MTN deal by arguing in US courts that MTN bribed an Iranian and a South African government official, and encouraged South Africa to support Iran's nuclear power development programme at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Politics are likely to continue to effect business.

Last month, International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters the way forward was for the international community to ensure weapons inspectors were able to do their jobs and to campaign for the peaceful use of nuclear power, "not just to target Iran as a country".

  • bernpm - 2012-02-08 14:12

    ".........close loopholes that officials say Iran has used to move money despite earlier restrictions imposed by the US and Europe." Start bartering uranium for oil....!

  • zaakiro - 2012-02-08 14:17

    An so the show continues, first Afghanistan for Usama Bin Laden (who presumably was died in the 2000s from health issues) then Iraq for Weapon of Mass Destruction (Weapons which were never seized, nor found), then Libya to "save" the innocent people (of whom many where killed) now it's the turn of Iraq who are planning/ or are in the process of developing atomic weapons. The funny thing is that the world continuous to believe them (The US) every time, while millions are killed (both the innocent, and those defending themselves), billions and trillions of dollars are wasted, thousands of American lives are spared, nation after nation join the American...and what happens they FAIL!! Everytime

      Stephen - 2012-02-08 14:42

      America made a decision after 9/11, the slightest chance you got terrorist and atomic weapons in your country, they’re going to move in and have the war there. They will never allow an atomic terrorist attack on American soil, whether that country is rich with oil or penniless. They are going to see their arse, and I fully agree with them.

      Merven - 2012-02-08 15:15

      Hopefully Zim and SA are next, a sure way to get rid of corrupt presidents.

      John - 2012-02-08 20:28

      @Zaak Im impressed how in 10 lines you explained global terrorism and economic trends worldwide. The real funny thing is that you not cannot make difference between iran and iraq. In regards historical facts what was first and seccond....big upps braa. I know if is not searchable on internet is not existent for you, but Zaak proficiency in politics and economy doesn't come overnight. Please check your post. In regards of contamination of tread of nuclear attack (not only in US soil) - i dont think that you have any counter plan or understanding of the subject. Watching war Reports, Pictures and/or Video from the region - some people can identify difference between US and British uniforms and helmets. Besides US and UK there are other nations armies also presented in the region.... Zaak....i think discussion around roadkills in South Africa might be more interesting. Dont you think that maybe we so close to the numbers of war casualties in Iraq and or Afganistan?

  • Steward - 2012-02-08 15:19

    Who exactly are America to dictate who can and cannot have nuclear weapons? Who gave them authority?

      DuToitCoetzee - 2012-02-08 15:50

      I am not fond of them either, but neither are you of your boss/the owner of the company(if you have one) Nearly the same power. They are not the UN. USA is not there to please you and me. He(or should one say she) must please his own people. Since the begin of time the strongest rules. Yes, there are politics and tactics that can confuse one, but their people is their 1st priority. They are powerful and if they believe that anyone can harm them or becoming a possible threat in the future TO THEM, they will react. Yes, there is things like fairness and "friends", but to them/any country they/the citizens comes 1st. They can feel that they contribute the most in organizations like UN, aid organizations and some countries's well being. You can call it buying off guilt or whatever, but the fact remains that there 1st priority is USA. We/the other countries must stop looking them in the eyes all the time and cry foul when we do not get what we want. We/other countries must start doing things for themselves. Yes, you can be friends, but make sure your deal with them and other countries is in such a way that one score more for your own citizens, but do not allow blind trust and sentiment to sell yourself out. Maybe I should have put it in short. If we like it or not. Because they can!!!

      cheryl.kristiansen - 2012-02-08 15:50

      @Steward. my point exactly. how come the usa have nuclear weapons? who made them the police of the world.

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-02-08 16:24

      This ridiculous arguement again, the idea is to not have anymore nuclear weapons . The more weapons in more countries means further countries want them (if Iran has, Suadi's want, if Saudi's have ,some else wants), fears drive further tensions and greater weapons stockpiles. This snow ball effect gets created , pre-emptive stike strategies are on the table ect and its fundamentally a very BAD IDEA . Russia/US have significantly reduced there weapon stockpiles over a long peroid of mutual agreement and trust after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So when a country like Iran gets them it will usher in a new era cold war, far more risky than the previous which really only included two countries (and it came close) to now a global free for all. The lesser of evils is to prevent further development of nuclear weapons even if it means being the bad guy in playground debates of ,if he can why can't I arguements. The better question is , why does Iran want nukes ?

      Hugh - 2012-02-08 16:44

      It the USA doesn't act against these ...Iranians, Israel will shove a missile right up the Iranians arsenal. That will get their attention.

      Fidel - 2012-02-08 16:54

      @Ninja Why aren't those countries that already have them not getting rid of them, instead they are busy updating them like the British Trident Defense shield. Nuclear weapons ensures that your country doesn't get attacked by the warmongers. They are for detterence only.

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-02-09 11:23

      Fidel - as i said they have been getting rid of them. Stockpiles are significanlty less than a few decades ago. Mutually assured destruction was the cold war stalement which strategically made a first strike a non option ,More than a few of Iran’s rulers hold the theological conviction that the return of the Mahdi, the savior, can be brought about only by an apocalypse. As scholar Bernard Lewis has phrased it, for those share the views of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent. It’s an inducement.”

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-02-09 11:33 Please go to critisisms .

  • Fidel - 2012-02-08 17:05

    The global hegemony of the old colonists needs to be condemned. There's no official organisation that has found Iran to be developing nuclear weapons and as such any unilateral decision by the western hawks to impose sanctions on Iran should be ignored by the rest of the world, including our country. Washington and Brussels cannot dictate to the rest of the world how to conduct their trade.

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-02-09 11:36

      No they dictate who they will trade with and requirements for trading with them , thats sanctions.

  • Nkululeko - 2012-02-08 20:24

    I don't understand why Iran should stop producing nuclear weapons while the western countries are doing the same thing. The so called developed countries always want to see the so called developing countries struggling, they are scared of losing the power.

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