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Lieberman Warns: Still ‘Very Risky’ to Do Business Inside Iran

An elderly woman cries during a candle light vigil at the Fatima Sanctuary in Fatima, center Portugal, Sunday, May 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) warned companies that it is still “very risky” to do business in Iran, despite the nuclear agreement.

“Iran continues to violate human rights and do things that we find unacceptable in our country and in most of the rest of the world. They jail their political opponents. They jail journalists. They’re terrible to gay and lesbian Iranians. I could go on and on, and it’s not hard to imagine a company that goes in to do business in Iran being held accountable at a board meeting or a demonstration outside their office asking them, ‘Why are you doing business and feeding a regime that is so hostile to human rights?’ On both of those grounds, we want to convince businesses that doing business in Iran is still a very risky business,” Lieberman, chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), said during a conference call.

The former Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000 argued that “the rush” of some businesses to Iran is “unseemly and undeserved” because the Iranians have not complied with many “international norms” in areas such as human rights, terrorism and missiles. He criticized Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s recent visit to Iran as premature.

“First visit, I believe, of a Western leader there since the JCPOA. Some nature of agreements between Italian businesses and Iran were signed,” he said. “It was very premature and in my opinion very risky, and we’re very grateful that former Italian Foreign Minister [Giulio] Terzi and others particularly in the human rights community in Italy issued a statement and held a public event at which they castigated the current Italian government and Italian businesses for that premature rush into a dangerous area.”

Mark Wallace, UANI CEO and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform, agreed with Lieberman, urging companies to consider the cybersecurity risks of doing business with Iran.

“I think there’s a belief that Iran is – that all is well and good in relations with Iran and it’s an untapped market ready to be explored by businesses and trade delegations and I think that the news every day which we track at United Against Nuclear Iran, at UANI, we see another example of Iran’s bad behavior,” he said. “Just the cybersecurity risks alone of big banks, big businesses and the like with Iran’s very, very aggressive hacking and cyberattack is, I think, enough to potentially dissuade businesses that are going there.”

Wallace said Iran has not changed since the nuclear agreement was reached.

“Look, it makes sense that businesses would want to explore a vast untapped market with an incredible population, potential large consumer base and the like and the population of an incredible people, but what we’re seeing right now is that Iran has not fundamentally changed,” he said.

“Iran thought to limit the nuclear discussions to really the nuclear file and if anything the hardliners seem to be prevailing right now and demonstrating an Iranian behavior that is getting in some ways worse and really causing enormous anxiety amongst our allies in the region as Iran tries to expand throughout that region,” he added.

In a recent interview, Lieberman said the Obama administration’s support for the Iran deal means the U.S. must repair its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“We disappointed them when we made the deal with Iran for nuclear weapons. It’s important to try to rebuild that relationship,” he said.

Lieberman was asked if he agreed with the proposed bill that would allow the 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has threatened to sell off its U.S. assets if the bill becomes law.

“I don’t know that it’s possible to really pull all their money out of U.S. Treasury notes, but they will respond because it matters,” he said.

Lieberman recommended an alternate solution to the bill.

“Somehow if the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are able to make their case back to somebody in Saudi Arabia then the Saudis ought to voluntarily create a fund to enable them to reimburse without waiving their rights,” he said.

When asked about the state of the presidential primaries, Lieberman said it is “fascinating” the two outsider candidates, Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are fighting their respective national committees. Lieberman said the Democratic “superdelegates” – the source of Clinton’s large lead over Sanders – are unnecessary.

“If you were talking about a perfectly fair system, there’s not really an argument for the superdelegates. I mean, the delegates to the convention should as closely as possible reflect the desires, the choices of the voters in that party and the given states in which they come,” he said. “Superdelegates, I mean, they were adopted over the years for various reasons. One was a lot of senators, governors and congressmen wanted to make sure they get to go to the convention.”