U.S. asks Latvia to stand against EU investment in Iran

On June 6, Marshall Billingslea, the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing at the United States Department of Treasury asked Latvia to resist possible activities of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in Iran, reported LTV on the evening of June 7.

Latvia's Finance Ministry and Foreign Ministry have yet to reveal Latvia's position, but the country's MPs tend to support the European Union, an approach likely to cause objections from the US.

The reason why I've come is that we have close cooperation as NATO allies. I am sure that, from our point of view, the Latvian Finance Minister is doing a great job. We discussed many things, including Iran, as part of our bilateral transatlantic relations, Billingslea told LTV after meeting Latvia's Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola (Greens and Farmers Union).  

"We talked about Iran in an international context, regarding the EU's position," said Latvia's Finance Minister. "Currently the core EU states are seeking how they could cooperate with Iran, by way of providing a mandate or even tasking the EIB to invest in Iran. The US side asked Latvia to object to ideas such as these, as there'll be serious sanctions against Iran and in this way we could put European-level finance institutions under threat," she said. 

Neither the Finance, nor the Foreign Ministry could comment as to the exact meaning of this request, instead forwarding journalists to pose questions to the other ministry.

Foreign policy experts say the US are probing sentiments across the periphery of the EU, seeing as the central states, Germany and France are firmly against reinstating sanctions. "Latvia is in a difficult situation, as this is a matter of a moral choice in an immoral situation. Both [the EU and the US] are partners, and we're forced to choose between these two partners. This is a very unfavorable situation," said Aldis Austers, a researcher at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs.

While there's little trade between Latvia and Iran, German and French interests in the country are much more sizable. The Saeima Foreign Affairs Committee is, however, unanimous in supporting the EU.

"On the one hand, I am not surprised. On the other, it's a pity we have such disagreements. We must remain together with the other EU states and find a solution. It is hoped we can make the Americans change their opinion," said committee chair Ojārs Kalniņš (Unity).

"I think it's a strategic choice we made in 2004 [when Latvia joined the EU]. We're not the 51st or 52nd state, but rather an EU country," said opposition MP Sergejs Potapkins (Harmony). 

While experts don't think the US will withdraw defense guarantees if Latvia sides with the EU, this is surely not to go unnoticed. 

One thing, however, is clear, LTV notes. Just like Russia, the US have adopted a "divide and conquer" approach in its relationship with Europe. 

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