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US companies skirt ban on trade with Iran

February 27, 2002

by Guy Dinmore and Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran
Published: February 27 2002

US security products are openly on display at a trade fair in Iran, despite sanctions banning virtually all trade and transfer of technology to the Islamic republic.

Iran’s first International Police and Security Equipment Exhibition, which opened in Tehran this week, has revealed that the imposition of US sanctions in 1995 is failing to prevent US companies profiting from sales to Iran conducted through foreign subsidiaries or middle-men.

President George W. Bush has branded Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil” intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Among the US products on display on Wednesday were closed-circuit televisions produced by Pelco, face-recognition systems by Visionics, access control by Apollo Security, satellite pictures by Space Imaging, printers by Hewlett-Packard and communications equipment by Motorola.

None of the US companies was available for comment in Iran. Stalls selling the equipment were staffed by Iranians who described themselves as private business people, acting as “representatives” of the US companies.

An Iranian exhibitor claiming to “represent” 12 foreign companies, including three from the US, said his enterprise had bought all kinds of western security equipment for Iran’s armed forces over the past decade. He said US sanctions had resulted in higher prices, indicating some products pass through several hands before reaching Iran.

“Americans are mad for money,” said the exhibitor, who asked not to be named, adding that his deals with western companies were worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Sa-Iran, a service company owned by the Iranian defence ministry, had a pavilion exhibiting Motorola satellite telephones and wireless communications commonly used by Iran’s security forces. “We have resolved the problem of US sanctions somehow,” a Sa-Iran exhibitor said but declined to give further details. Sa-Iran also buys US-made spare parts for electronics through its office in Malaysia.

Geoquip, a UK company, was listed in the official brochure as selling perimeter protection gear, while South Korean and Japanese telephone-tapping equipment was also on show.

The exhibition comes at a sensitive time for Iran’s security forces, which are coming under increased scrutiny by the reformist-majority parliament for their repression of internal dissent. Ahead of the fair, police in Tehran raided the headquarters of the main pro-reform student organisation, beating activists with batons.

In his opening address, Mohammad-Baqer Ghalibaf, commander of Iran’s police force, said the latest technology was needed “to have a healthy society and guarantee security for our citizens” but should not be used for evil and destructive purposes.

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