Simone Dinah Hartmann is the spokeswoman for the Austrian coalition STOP THE BOMB.
Near East Report: What is STOP THE BOMB?
Simone Dinah Hartmann: STOP THE BOMB is a coalition of diverse individuals who believe that the Iranian nuclear program poses a threat to Israel and the whole world. It was founded in Austria last autumn. Among us are intellectuals and artists, students and retirees, human rights activists and Iranian dissidents from very different political backgrounds.
In December, we started an online petition against Austrian business with the Iranian regime, specifically targeting the planned deal between Austria's partially state-owned oil company, OMV, and Tehran.
More than 3,000 people have already signed our petition, among them Nobel Prize-winning author Elfriede Jelinek, Paris-based Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld, former Austrian ambassador to Israel Dr. Kurt Hengl and Green Party MP Albert Steinhauser.
Our campaign was covered by national and international media extensively and certainly put pressure on OMV and the Austrian government which had reacted through back channels.
NER: What type of trade relations does Austria have with Iran?
SDH: Trade relations with Iran run high. Austria has tried to improve ties in every sector of the Iranian economy. Ironically, the brewery Ottakringer last year said they would build a production site in Iran to produce their non-alcoholic brand "Null Komma Josef," a deal worth 25 million euros. Military deals account for 11 percent of Austrian-Iranian trade.
Austrian exports to Iran have doubled since 2002 but are still in the millions not billions. Certainly a deal of such magnitude, as the 22 billion euros-worth OMV-Iran-deal represents, is ground-breaking for Austrian-Iranian relations and would make Austria Iran's gateway to Europe. We cannot rule out that this might actually be the reason why this deal is backed by all parties represented in the Austrian parliament.
Unfortunately, Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer suggested that human rights must be subordinated to business interests and that his government has no intention of interfering in the OMV deal-even though the state is the company's largest shareholder.
NER: What are the goals of your campaign?
SDH: Our primary goal at this point is for the OMV-Iran deal to be cancelled. We demand that the Austrian government cease its politics of appeasement and instead increase pressure on Iran by means of political and economic sanctions.
The Austrian government has the means to cease any credit support provided by the Austrian Control Bank for transactions with Iran.
Austria has not only a moral obligation to protect the existence of Israel, but it also has to realize at some point that the Iranian expansion strategy will hit us as well if not stopped.
NER: How would cutting off trade with Iran help end the regime's illicit nuclear program?
SDH: Iran needs Europe. Forty percent of its imports are from Europe. European technology helps the regime to continue its nuclear program. Imposing sanctions will certainly weaken the economy and hurt the regime to the point where it might be impossible to continue its nuclear activities. Iran is dependent on deals with gas companies like OMV to develop its natural gas fields and further increase Iran's oil and gas revenues.
The Iranian people certainly will not be the victims of the sanctions but the winner of such policies. By weakening the Iranian regime, Europeans could help strengthen the majority of Iranians who suffer daily from this regime.
NER: What are the future plans of STOP THE BOMB?
SDH: We are organizing an international conference on May 3-4 in Vienna with widely recognized scholars such as Dr. Patrick Clawson, Prof. Benny Morris and Dr. Matthias KÃ¼ntzel as well as a number of Iranian dissidents. Our main objective is to further spread a discussion on the Iranian threat and what Austria can do to prevent the horrible scenario of a nuclear Iran.
We are expanding our efforts to other countries. The Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin is going to hold a conference in May as well, which is going to be the jump-start for a similar campaign in Germany. At this point in time, where sanctions can still make a difference, it is of utmost importance to put all our efforts into denouncing European business ties with Iran and pressuring governments and companies to cancel their deals with this regime.
NER: How can people learn more about STOP THE BOMB?
SDH: Visit our site at stopthebomb.net. There you will find material on Austria-Iran relations as well as press releases and reviews. If you are supportive of our goals, you can sign our petition there.
STOP THE BOMB is a non-profit organization and dependent on support. We welcome every kind of support that will bring us closer to our goal of cutting business ties between Austria and Iran.
You can also read the recently released book Iran-An analysis of the Islamic Republic and its European Supporters, which I co-edited with the political scientist Dr. Stephan Grigat. The book includes a number of articles dealing with Austrian and European policies toward Iran.