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Keep up the pressure on Iran

Shippers should have to choose between doing business in Maryland and in Iran

By Jay Bernstein

2:32 PM EDT, June 20, 2013

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At a time when the election of a new, allegedly "moderate" president of Iran has created much excitement and raised many expectations, a more sober assessment of the nature of the Iranian regime is found in the annual report on terrorism issued by the State Department last month.

As described in the report, terrorist activity in Iran "has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s, with attacks plotted in Southeast Asia, Europe and Africa." Iran provides financial, material and logistical support to the Taliban, Iraqi Shiite militant groups and Hezbollah, all of which have killed American soldiers, as well as to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups that routinely target Israeli civilians. Iran also funds and arms the Assad regime, thereby enabling the brutal crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Syria.

The United States is not immune to the threat posed by Iran. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy reports that "Iran not only continues to expand its presence and bilateral relationships with countries like Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, but it also maintains a network of intelligence agents specifically tasked with sponsoring and executing terrorist attacks in the Western Hemisphere."

Concurrent with its promotion of terrorism, Iran is violating its international obligations by vigorously pursuing an illegal nuclear weapons program. Since the eight candidates who ran for president were pre-approved by a council answerable to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, it is not surprising that all of them — including new President Hasan Rowhani — supported Iran's nuclear weapons program. At a press conference a few days ago, Mr. Rowhani stated that Iran would not curtail uranium enrichment, and demanded that the United States "recognize all of the Iranian nation's due rights, including nuclear rights."

Given this reality, it would be a mistake for the United States and the West to respond to the election results by easing sanctions against Iran. To the contrary, it is more critical than ever that such sanctions be promoted, enforced and strengthened.

Here in Maryland, much has already been done to address the Iranian threat. In recent years, Maryland has enacted legislation divesting the state pension fund from companies doing business in Iran, and barring companies that invest in Iran's energy sector from receiving state contracts. These laws are intended to end the economic and financial support that the Iranian regime receives from these companies and thereby compel Iran to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons program, support for terrorism and gross human rights violations.

In addition to these measures, Maryland should confirm that shipping companies that operate in the Port of Baltimore do not conduct business in Iran, and deny entry to companies like Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) that operate in both the Port of Baltimore and Bandar Abbas, the site of Iran's largest container terminal. Such operations not only violate Maryland's public policy but are contrary to the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Barack Obama in January, which authorizes sanctions against anyone who knowingly supports activity benefiting port operators in Iran. Shippers that operate in Iran contribute to the regime's economic viability at a time when the international community is working to isolate Iran in response to its support for terrorism, human rights abuses and pursuit of an illegal nuclear weapon.

Last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley declared that the United States and its allies "need to stand together against regimes like Iran and others who seek to destabilize the region and take us in a backward direction." If Governor O'Malley's call to action is to have any meaning, shippers like OOCL must be required to choose between the business of Maryland and the business of Iran. Hopefully, companies confronted with this choice will choose Maryland's business over Iran's, and in so doing contribute toward the effort to moderate the regime's policies and force it to behave in accordance with international norms.

Jay Bernstein is host of Shalom USA Radio and vice president of the Baltimore Zionist District. His email is shalom@shalomusaradio.com.