Dems Aiding Iran’s Backdoor to EU Trade
For the average observer, any mention of U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) brings to mind those lawmakers’ calls for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The role is a familiar one for House Intelligence Committee chair Schiff, the de facto Congressional spokesman for the Mueller Report and now for the inquiry into the Ukraine scandal. Yet these three Democratic legislators are lesser known for their entanglement in another conundrum — enabling Iran to skirt U.S. sanctions and infiltrate European markets.
It begins with seemingly distinct, yet in actuality highly interconnected events which took place on a parallel track from Oct. 1-2. On those dates, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a Russia-led trade alliance of five ex-Soviet republics which was formed with the goal of countering the European Union, held its annual conference in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan.
This year’s summit served as a precursor to Iran’s official membership in the EAEU beginning on Oct. 27, a development which will mean that Iranian goods can be exported to the EAEU states (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia) with virtually no tariffs. The particularly concerning element for the West in this equation is Armenia, the only EAEU member possessing a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU. In essence, Tehran’s pending EAEU membership carries the potential to bring Iranian commerce directly to Europe — with the Iran-Armenia border as the primary conduit.
It should come as no surprise that Armenia, which is rapidly expanding its booming trade with the Iranians and in April reached a customs cooperation deal with the Islamic Republic, stands poised to function as the chief channel for expanding Iran’s business footprint in Europe. The Trump administration is already well familiar with Armenia’s history as a sanctions-buster, as the U.S. sanctioned two Armenian companies in August due to their business ties with Iran. Tehran has also used Armenian banks as a mechanism for circumventing international financial sanctions. Further, at the EAEU conference, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashiyan stated outright his intent to deepen Armenia-Iran ties “in spite of U.S. sanctions.”
The second piece of the puzzle is Pallone’s Oct. 1-2 visit to Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-occupied territory that is affirmed in four U.N. resolutions as part of Azerbaijan. Days before the New Jersey lawmaker’s trip, Pallone, Speier, and Schiff signed a Sept. 27 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper calling for “the immediate halt of military aid to Azerbaijan,” citing their concerns over how “the supplies, training, and manpower supported by the dramatic amount of U.S. funding [for Azerbaijan] will be used to further perpetuate aggression against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Yet the U.S. funding which the lawmakers are targeting — $58.6 million for Azerbaijan in fiscal year 2018 and $42.9 million in fiscal year 2019 — falls under the Section 333 Building Partner Capacity program and pertains to maritime security as well as border capabilities, including the curbing of Iranian aggression at the Islamic Republic’s border with Azerbaijan. In fact, the American security assistance in question has no implications for Azerbaijani military capabilities vis-à-vis Nagorno-Karabakh. By seeking to torpedo this funding, all that the three pro-Armenian House Democrats are actually accomplishing is paving a path towards bolstering Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
The timing is unmistakable. During the very same early-October days on which Armenia hosts a gathering that celebrates Iran’s forthcoming economic empowerment through EAEU membership, Pallone visits Armenian-occupied territory to tout the same pro-Iranian policy recommendations expressed in his letter to Pompeo and Esper.
“I don’t think we should be giving any military assistance to Azerbaijan, because every indication is that they would use it — the likelihood is that they would use it against Armenia,” Pallone said in Nagorno-Karabakh.
It’s richly ironic that Pallone, who purports to be a leading voice against foreign influence over American affairs, lands in Nagorno-Karabakh on the Armenian government’s own military helicopter to urge the end of security assistance to a U.S. ally. If that’s not foreign influence, what really is?
The same could be said of Speier and Schiff, the self-anointed crusaders for the truth on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election who simultaneously exacerbate Russia’s well-documented influence over Armenia. How can they ignore, for instance, that Armenia’s borders and airspace are patrolled by Russian troops and aircraft?
Let’s hope that unlike the pro-Armenian contingent in Congress, the Trump administration operates from a reality-based perspective when assessing America’s strategic interests — starting with a nuanced understanding of how Armenia empowers Iran.
Jesse Bogner is an author and journalist. His memoir and social critique, The Egotist, has been translated into five languages. His work has been featured in The Daily Caller, MSN, and The Huffington Post.