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The New York Times: Recalling 9 / 11, Campaigners Urge Iran Divestment

EXTRACT: Activists want investors to target European firms such as Italy’s Eni and Britain’s Royal Dutch Shell Plc, all drawn to the huge Iranian energy resources that are crucial to the Islamic state’s economy.
 
By REUTERS
Published: September 11, 2007

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Activists urging U.S. pension funds to divest in Iran-linked companies are hoping the Sept. 11 anniversary will draw attention to a cause they say is gaining momentum in state legislatures across the country.

“This is something we can do without spilling a drop of blood or firing a bullet to bring about a better outcome in the Middle East,” said Debra Burlingame, whose brother was a pilot on the hijacked jet that crashed into the Pentagon near Washington.

Burlingame spent the days before Tuesday’s sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks promoting Divest Terror, a group linked to conservative think-tank the Center for Security Policy, which is lobbying multi-billion-dollar public pension funds to use their economic clout against countries they see as America’s enemies.

Missouri and Louisiana have taken steps on Iran and California is among about a dozen states with action pending.

“There are many more states that I will have legislation in come January 1,” said Divest Terror director Chris Holton.

U.S. companies already are banned from doing business in Iran, which is on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Sudan, Syria, North Korea and Cuba.

Activists want investors to target European firms such as Italy’s Eni and Britain’s Royal Dutch Shell Plc, all drawn to the huge Iranian energy resources that are crucial to the Islamic state’s economy. Telecoms firms and banks also are among those under scrutiny.

Washington is pressing Tehran because of suspicions it is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, although Iran says its nuclear program is purely peaceful. The United States also accuses Iran of backing terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere.

Burlingame said the two issues were linked since al Qaeda wants weapons of mass destruction and “Iran seems like a fertile place to go looking.” She said the Sept. 11 anniversary was a way of getting people’s attention.

“They think more about terrorism on that particular day,” Burlingame said.

NUCLEAR THREAT

Peter Zimmerman, a retired professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London, said it was misleading to combine the ideas of nuclear weapons and terrorism.

“None of the 9/11 crew, as I remember, were Iranians, and most of them were from Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It’s worth reminding people that al Qaeda is a strictly Sunni organization and Iran is a very strictly Shi’ite state and it’s not clear to me that Iran would in fact give a weapon to al Qaeda.

“My interest in Iran is in its nuclear weapons program,” he said. “It’s the difference between killing by the thousands, killing by tens and killing by millions.”

Israeli politicians and some pro-Israel groups in America are among those who have urged pension funds to divest in Iran, whose president has threatened to wipe Israel off the map.

But Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said growing support for divestment was fueled by local initiatives rather than lobbying by his or other similar organizations.

“People are seeing that the reality (of Iran getting nuclear weapons) is coming closer,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council has adopted two sanctions resolutions against Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Western powers are weighing a third resolution.

In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to give legal protections to investment managers who pull money out of Iran. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democratic presidential candidate, has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

Washington has not ruled out military action.

Holton said public pension funds had many billions of dollars at their disposal. “We have a tremendous amount of economic leverage we can use against Iran before we unleash hell on them,” he said.

U.S. pressure already has led several German banks to scale back in Iran and Holton said Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS AG, had been removed from Divest Terror’s “dirty dozen” list since it said last year it would cut all ties to Iran.

Holton said the main argument against divestment was that it would hurt portfolio performance but he rejected that.

“The asset managers on Wall Street are in between a rock and a hard place because of a lot of them were there when the towers came down and had to run for their lives,” Holton said.

“They understand the threat of terrorism, they also know from the days of the South Africa divestment movement of the 1980s that this is possible, it can be done.”

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