Iran Watch: The bratwurst effect

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is making headlines for declaring over the weekend that Tehran does not fear Western military action. "You say to Iran all options are on the table," he noted. "Leave them there until they rot." It's the most creative reinterpretation of the "all options are on the table" diplomatic speak since Mitt Romney's line about military options being "not just on the table" but "in our hand." Frankly, the metaphor is starting to spiral out of control.

But the behind-the-scenes storyline today involves fresh information about the effectiveness of the sanctions arrayed against Iran. Saudi Arabia announced that it will (reluctantly) fill any gap in world oil markets created by the sanctions regime, while Western powers are criticizing countries such as India, Pakistan, and Turkey for continuing to engage commercially with Iran. AFP has a good summary of India's predicament, as a major Indian trade delegation visits Tehran:

The mission sees India walking a diplomatic tightrope as it seeks more business from Iran while managing a growing partnership with the United States and maintaining good relations with Israel, a key arms supplier....

Iran is India's second-largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia, and while India has diversified to cut its dependence on the country in recent years, New Delhi says replacement of "all Iranian oil imports" is not "a realistic option."

But the most bizarre report on the consequences of sanctions against Iran comes courtesy of USA Today, which serves up a report from Germany on the rising price of bratwurst, which is made with sheep intestines imported from Iran:

Some suggest Iran is intentionally punishing Germany with the shortage. Rainer Heimler, president of the Society for the Protection of Nuremberg Bratwurst, which defends the good name of the sausage from the low-quality imitations, said he doubts the connection between politics and bratwurst inflation.

"I cannot imagine that as revenge on Europe, Iran might refuse to deliver intestines to prevent the Germans from eating bratwurst," Heimler said.

The larger point in the bratwurst article is that sanctions are stoking destabilizing inflation in Iran. The Financial Times points out that a declining Iranian rial has dealt a substanial blow to Iranian consumer demand. "Iran, struggling to do business in dollars, now advocates a mix of barter deals and non-dollar transactions," the paper adds.


Iran meter: So, could sanctions-induced economic instablity in Iran sink the Iranian regime without the need for a military confrontation, as the Washington Post's David Ignatius suggested on Friday? We probably can't conclude that yet. Iran, after all, still has trading partners, and there are few concrete signs that a regime implosion is imminent. As the Wall Street Journal reported from Tehran over the weekend, Iranians may be struggling with economic hardship, but few "see themselves taking to the streets, even if things get much worse. 'We have to keep going,' says one merchant in a neighborhood shopping district. 'People here are boiling, but don't make a sound.'"

In the meantime, keep your eye on the price of bratwurst.

Adam Berry/Getty Images


Qaddafi-Sarkozy finance allegations resurface in French election

Almost exactly a year ago, Saif al-Qaddafi made this puzzling accusation about French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

“Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign. We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything. The first thing we want this clown to do is to give the money back to the Libyan people. He was given assistance so that he could help them. But he’s disappointed us: give us back our money. We have all the bank details and documents for the transfer operations and we will make everything public soon.”

The allegation wasn't taken too seriously at the time, given the source. But it has resurfaced this week thanks to a report by the investigative website Mediapart, which includes a leaked document that it says proves that the Qaddafis financed Sarkozy's campaign to the tune of €50 million. The document had been part of the evidence in an investigation of the ties between Sarkozy's circle and a Middle Eastern arms dealer.

Huffington Post UK summarizes:

The documents make specific reference to Ziad Takieddine, a middle man in huge arms and petrol contracts between France and various Middle Eastern countries.

It is claimed Takieddine went to Tripoli 11 times to supervise the transaction in 2005, “the year where a payment of €50m (£42m) would have been concluded between the Libyans and Sarkozy camp.”

It also claims Brice Hortefeux, Sarkozy’s long time friend, advisor, and later interior minister, “intervened personally” in the financial operations. According to Mediapart, Hortefeux has denied any involvement in the events.

Mediapart said the document was “drafted and handed over to investigators by a witness to the dossier, Jean-Charles Brisard, ex member of (former prime minister) Eduard Balladur’s campaign team in 1995, now director of a private intelligence company.”

The cryptic three-line note published by MediaPart doesn't really seem like smoking gun, but the story's been picked up by other major media outlets in France. This isn't exactly welcome news for Sarkozy's struggling reelection campaign, particularly at a time when he's trying to outflank the far-right on culture war issues and Islam.

Sarkozy described the allegation as "grotesque" adding, "If [Qaddafi] did finance my campaign, I wasn't very grateful." It is true, as Issandr al-Amrani notes, that if Qaddafi did make an investment in Sarkozy, he didn't really get his money's worth from the president who spearheaded last year's bombing campaign.