Sever Ties With Iran or Risk Losing Funding, Advocacy Group Tells U.N. Agency

By Patrick Goodenough | November 27, 2012 | 4:35 AM EST

UNIDO Director-General Kandeh Yumkella and Iran’s permanent representative to the U.N. in Vienna, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh. (UNIDO photo)

( – An advocacy group led by prominent U.S. foreign policy figures is urging a United Nations agency to stop funding projects that support the Iranian regime.

The group, United Against Nuclear Iran, also is calling on donor nations to withhold financial contributions to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), until it severs its links with the regime.

Despite the unresolved standoff over its nuclear activities, Iran is an active participant at the United Nations and has strong links with the Vienna-based UNIDO. As recently as 2009-2011, Iran served as chairman of UNIDO’s general conference, the 173-member organization’s supreme governing body which approves policies and budget.

UNIDO has implemented projects in Iran totalling $51.7 million, according to information available on the agency’s website.

Some of them involve work with the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization of Iran (IDRO), a conglomerate that has been determined by the U.S. Treasury Department to be owned or controlled by the Iranian government, and is subject to sanctions.

In a letter to UNIDO Director-General Kandeh Yumkella, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) CEO Mark Wallace described IDRO as “one of the main Iranian regime entities responsible for the regime’s illicit procurement activities and the development of its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.”

He pointed out that IDRO is sanctioned by the U.S., Canada, and the European Union.

“UNIDO’s partnership with IDRO and activities in Iran directly counter the core foreign policy interests of dozens of U.N. member states,” Wallace wrote. “Surely you must understand the disconnect whereby countries are imposing sanctions on IDRO only to have international organizations like UNIDO continue close relations and support for IDRO and Iran.”

UANI advised Yumkella that it was informing legislators and regulators in various countries about UNIDO’s relationship with IDRO, and calling on nations to withhold their funding to UNIDO until the agency “ceases its partnership and cooperation with sanctioned Iranian regime entities.”

Citing inefficiency, the United States withdrew from UNIDO in 1996, as did Australia, while Canada left in 1993.

Britain a year ago announced it was leaving an organization it described as ineffective and poorly run, a decision that will take effect at the end of this year. New Zealand confirmed last March that it was starting the process of withdrawing from UNIDO and the Dutch government said it was assessing whether or not to continue its support.

The largest remaining donors include Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and China.

UANI spokesman Nathan Carleton said all six countries would be among the advocacy group’s targets.

“Given their prominence on the world stage, we think they could all have an effect by taking a stand on this issue, and encouraging others too,” he said.

UNIDO spokesman Mikhail Evstafyev did not respond to specific queries about cooperation with IDRO, but said in a statement, “UNIDO has been cooperating with the Republic of Iran in several areas that relate to the organization’s main thematic priorities and mandate supported by our member states.”

“They include poverty reduction through productive activities, developing a green industry and implementing international environmental agreements, including the Montreal Protocol,” he added. (The 1987 treaty is aimed at protecting the ozone layer by phasing out substances believed to be contributing to its depletion.)

According to data found on the UNIDO website, completed projects in Iran involving IDRO or IDRO subsidiaries include an $87,582 institutional capacity building project; a $31,953 project to monitor and assess preparation for the setup of an information and communication technology park in Tehran; and “assistance in strategic management and corporate planning,” valued at $123,201.

‘Undercutting the work and principles of the U.N.’

UNIDO is one of several U.N. agencies where Iran has enjoyed prominent roles in recent years despite its defiance of Security Council resolutions relating to its nuclear programs.

Last summer it was elected to a leadership position at a U.N. conference negotiating an arms trade treaty, and in 2010 it was unanimously elected onto the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

Iran was also president of the executive board of the U.N. Development Program in 2009; president of the executive board of the U.N. Population Fund in 2009; vice-chairman in 2009-2010 of a General Assembly (UNGA) committee tasked to promote “the free circulation and wider and better-balanced dissemination of information”; vice-chairman of the UNGA’s legal affairs committee in 2009-2010; U.N. Children’s Fund executive board member in 2008-2010; member of the advisory committee for the U.N. Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, in 2008-2011; and vice-chairman in 2007-2008 of the U.N. Disarmament Commission, a body dealing with nuclear and conventional arms reduction, and non-proliferation.

“Despite its history of undercutting the work and principles of the U.N., the Iranian regime nevertheless continues to freely participate in and receive substantial assistance from the U.N.’s various  organs, entities and subsidiary bodies,” Wallace wrote in his letter to Yumkella.

Last August, UANI joined former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton in calling on the U.N. to suspend Iran’s rights and privileges, given its continued defiance of the U.N.’s Charter and international law.

UANI was founded in 2008 by Wallace, who served as U.S. representative for U.N. management and reform in the George W. Bush administration, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former U.S. Mideast negotiator Dennis Ross, and the late former ambassador and assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke. Its president is Kristen Silverberg, who was ambassador to the European Union in the Bush administration.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow