Conservatives Push for Counter-Terror Divestment

July 7, 2008 - 8:32 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The United Nations Security Council has voted to impose sanctions on Iranian nuclear and missile programs, but some American conservatives argue that U.S. state governments can have a greater impact on Tehran's nuclear activities by pulling money out of companies that do business with the terror-sponsoring nation.

"Security Council sanctions on Iran are virtually useless, they're so watered down," Christopher Holton told Cybercast News Service on Friday.

"Iran's revenue stream from various economic activities, especially oil and gas, enables it to have those programs and there's been nothing done to put any pressure on Iran to ... in terms of economic sanctions, which is really what needs to be done."

Holton is the Director of DivestTerror.org, a project of the conservative Center for Security Policy that urges U.S. public pension systems to divest from companies that do business in terrorist-sponsoring nations.

"What the effect of the Divest Terror initiative would be would be far more comprehensive than anything that the U.N. Security Council came up with," Holton said.

Holton said many pensioners do not realize that their money is invested in companies that do business in nations recognized by the U.S. State Department as state sponsors of terror.

"U.S. investors in general are heavily invested in foreign companies that do business with our enemies," he said. "Iran is the world's foremost sponsor of jihadist terrorism."

According to a 2004 Divest Terror report, the top 100 public pension systems in the United States invest more than $188 billion in countries listed as state sponsors of terrorism.

The average top pension systems invests in 73 companies doing business in Iran, 26 companies doing business in Sudan, 31 doing business in Syria, nine doing business in North Korea, and 24 doing business in Libya, which was removed the state sponsors of terror list in May 2006.

Divest Terror says public pension systems should require companies that operate in terror-sponsoring nations to make a choice "between doing business with the American people and capital markets on the one hand or, alternatively, doing business with terrorists' friends and this country's enemies."

Among the 12 companies that do the most business in terrorist-sponsoring countries - dubbed "the dirty dozen" by DivestTerror.org - are German telecommunications giant Siemens AG and South Korean automaker Hyundai.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia are listed on the report has having pension systems invested in companies that do business with terror-sponsoring nations. But since the report's release in 2004, at least a few states have taken steps to divest.

Efforts to Divest

In 2005, Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman began efforts to divest that state's money from companies doing business with terror-sponsoring nations, including the New York Branch of Arab Bank, which in August was fined $24 million by the U.S. Treasury after an investigation into money laundering and financial support of terrorist groups.

In July 2005, Steelman successfully changed Missouri investment policy to prohibit investments in such companies.

The policy now says that the state "seeks to promote and support the objectives of U.S. foreign policy regarding terrorism. Accordingly, investments in companies ... that are known to sponsor terrorism or aid the government in countries that are known to sponsor terrorism are prohibited."

In July 2005, the Swiss America Trading Corporation launched "Operation Divest Terror," a program that allows investors to check their holdings against a list of companies known to do business with terrorists or state sponsors of terrorism.

The corporation checks clients' investments against a list of companies connected to terrorism provided by the Conflict Securities Advisory Group, which says there are "about 400 U.S. and foreign publicly traded companies that have business activities in or with terrorist-sponsoring states."

Investment in terrorism-sponsored companies or governments was even an issue in the 2006 midterm election campaign. In his unsuccessful bid to keep his Senate seat, Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum accused his Democratic challenger, then-State Treasurer Bob Casey, of allowing Pennsylvania pension funds to invest in companies linked to terrorism.

Santorum accused Casey of "aiding and abetting terrorism and genocide," a charge Casey said reflected "a really desperate campaign."

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